Interview: Ana Cabral-Gardner, Co-CEO and Co-Chairman, Sigma Lithium
Ana Cabral-Gardner is co-chairperson and co-CEO of Sigma Lithium, a Canadian company dedicated to powering the next generation of electric vehicle batteries with environmentally sustainable and high-purity lithium.
Since 2018, Sigma Lithium has been producing battery-grade sustainable lithium concentrate at its on-site demonstration pilot plant in Brazil’s Minas Gerais region, while executing a sustainability roadmap to support decarbonization and reach net zero emissions by 2024.
Q: How is Sigma Lithium meeting ESG standards?
In order to secure a leading position supplying the clean mobility and green energy storage value chains, Sigma Lithium adheres consistently to the highest standards of ESG practices, established as part of its core purpose at inception in 2012. The production process will be powered by clean energy and the Company will use state-of-the art water recirculation circuits in its processing combined with dry stacking tailings management. The DMS process of the production plant does not utilize hazardous chemicals, as a result its tailings are 100% recyclable into ancillary industries, such as ceramics.
Q: You have outlined a very bold plan to achieve zero emissions by 2024. Can you give me some examples?
Sigma has delivered an agreement to the nearby towns of Araçuai and Itinga for the creation of an independent investment agency as part of its commitment to social and economic development. The Investment Agency will promote private investment and economic diversification of the region and is structured along the same lines as the methodology used by the World Bank.
The Investment Agency will be the forum for the discussion of regional development, putting the towns of Araçuai and Itinga on the national agenda and international investment map.
Secondly, Sigma will donate (through one of its related parties) approximately 150 hectares of forest land to create a state park, as part of its carbon “in-setting” initiatives to decrease emissions and footprint in the region. This area is located at a high sierra approximately 140 km from the Project and was potentially at risk to be suppressed for cattle pastures.
This transfer to the State of Minas Gerais National Park Institute is the environmental compensation for the suppression of semi-arid and savannah bush-type vegetation at or around the mine pit areas of the Project as per Sigma´s current environmental license.
Q: You export lithium materials. What opportunity does that present for Brazil?
Brazil has a unique opportunity to become a major global exporter of environmentally sustainable advanced lithium materials, attracting global investments and creating local jobs while transforming the social and economic foundation of the Vale do Jequitinhonha, one of the world’s poorest regions in the semi-arid north of the Minas Gerais state.
The growth in electric vehicle sales in Europe, Asia and the United States represents a fantastic opportunity for Brazil to position itself as a green lithium powerhouse, supplying the battery grade high purity lithium materials to enable the conversion of global transportation to zero carbon.
Q: Why are so many countries trying to produce lithium?
Countries that produce lithium will gain relevance and importance on the global stage over the next decade in the race to net zero. This explains why so many governments across Europe, the US, South America and Asia are decarbonizing mobility and fostering production of lithium materials as a top priority.
Q: Why Brazil?
Brazil has plenty of lithium to export. Brazil is already a global case study in low carbon mobility powering our cars with ethanol, biofuels and natural gas. 88% of our country’s entire passenger car fleet runs on hybrid ethanol. Brazilians are proud to be one of the world’s leading producers and consumers of biofuels.
Brazil has an incredible opportunity to join our neighbors in South America, Chile and Argentina who have developed their lithium industry and are major global exporters of lithium. Over the years, they have been receiving billions of dollars of investments. It is time Brazil captures its fair share of these investments to lift our impoverished region of Vale do Jequitinhonha.
Finally, becoming a global exporting powerhouse of lithium will bring to Brazil investments, business, jobs and critical tax revenues that will contribute to important federal and regional development projects and infrastructure, especially in the north of Minas Gerais state.
Q: What is the role of government?
We humbly believe Congress has an important opportunity to support this new industry, remove bureaucratic restrictions, and improve the business environment to attract investments and jobs to lift the impoverished region of Vale do Jequitinhonha. This will help Brazil to take a lead in global decarbonization and energy transition, strengthening strategic relationships with all governments worldwide who need to decarbonize their fleets to contribute to a greener planet.
Q: At a recent Financial Times summit, you said technology is driving the future of the lithium industry. Can you elaborate?
Technology will be key in the lithium industry and will help us make lithium greener and cheaper. Sigma uses quite a lot of green technology: we perfected a dense media separation plant, digitally controlled it, avoiding a flotation plant altogether and all the issues that would come with it around wet tailing dams and chemicals.
Technology can be the vector to the spectacular success of the lithium industry helping us lower costs and stay greener or it can also undo the lithium industry if it is not disciplined enough to work with it downstream to enable less costly EVs.
For more information on Sigma Lithium, visit www.sigmalithiumresources.com. Sigma Lithium is supporting and participating at the World Climate Summit 2021, an official side event of COP26 and leading forum for business and investment-driven solutions to climate change.