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Mining company plans Tennessee plant to make raw materials for electric vehicle batteries

Tennessee has landed another piece of the thriving electric vehicle industry as companies in the state and nation seek to blunt China’s dominance in resources for the batteries that power vehicles.

Piedmont Lithium, based in Belmont, North Carolina, a suburb of Charlotte, announced it will invest nearly $600 million in a plant in Etowah, Tennessee, in a new industrial park about 60 miles northeast of Chattanooga to manufacture lithium hydroxide, a key raw material for making cathodes used in electric vehicle batteries. The plant will employ 120 people when commissioned in 2025.

Other manufacturers and suppliers of electric vehicles have settled in the region. Australian lithium battery component maker Novonix Group announced last November that it would build an operation in the 400,000 square foot building known locally as “big blue” a short distance from downtown Chattanooga. . General Electric once owned the building and manufactured nuclear turbines there. Novonix will manufacture synthetic graphite for electric vehicle batteries.

Volkswagen builds electric vehicles at its Chattanooga plant, powered by batteries made by SK Innovation’s new factory in Commerce, Georgia. Toyota is the construction of its first battery factory in North America outside of Greensboro, North Carolina. And Ford is construction of a factory in West Tennessee for batteries and vehicles.

Volkswagen said in June it plans to build battery plants in the United States as well as additional assembly plants. Honda in partnership with LG recently announced plans to build a battery plant somewhere in the United States with strong indications that it will end up in Ohio, near Honda’s assembly plant in Maryville, about 45 miles north -west of Columbus.

“The rapid electrification of the automotive market has led to massive investments in the production of electric vehicles and lithium-ion batteries in the United States, creating a critical need for lithium hydroxide produced in the United States,” Keith said. Phillips, CEO of Piedmont Lithium. statement.

Erin Sanders, spokeswoman for Piedmont Lithium, told CoStar News that a total of $33 billion is being committed to building battery plants in the United States, which will require 500,000 tons of lithium hydroxide. That’s significantly more than the 15,000 tonnes currently produced in the country, Sanders said.

China produces much of the raw materials used in battery manufacturing, which has raised concerns in the United States that a virtual monopoly would cause economic harm. “It is imperative to our national security and economic growth that the United States has a strong domestic supply chain of critical minerals,” Republican North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis said in a statement last year. when several senators introduced legislation to expedite federal permitting for mineral production. .

The Inflation Reduction Act includes measures to encourage domestic sourcing of raw materials, particularly for processing minerals from free trade agreement countries. Consumers who buy an electric vehicle can receive a $7,500 tax credit if it’s made in North America and the critical minerals aren’t sourced from a ‘foreign entity of concern’, including China and Russia .

Piedmont Lithium’s new plant will process spodumene ore that will be mined in Quebec and Ghana in West Africa – not in the so-called Carolina Tin-Spodumene belt which lies mainly west of North Carolina, Sanders said. Canada has a free trade agreement and Ghana has trade agreements with the United States

Spodumene ore is a source of lithium. The North Carolina region was discovered in the 1950s when lithium was used to make atomic bombs.

Piedmont Lithium was founded six years ago by Australian financier Taso Arima and Lamont Leatherman, an American geologist who prospected for lithium in Gaston County, North Carolina. The company moved its headquarters to the United States last year and recently opened its new headquarters in downtown Belmont.

The company plans to build a separate processing plant in Cherryville, North Carolina, near where it is in the process of obtaining permits to open a mine along the spodumene belt. The plant, which will be close to a replica of the Tennessee plant, is expected to be operational in 2026.

Charlotte-based Albemarle Corp. is trying to restart a former lithium mine at Kings Mountain along the belt and in June announced plans to build a lithium processing plant in the area. Philadelphia-based Livent Corp., a spin-off of chemical company FMC Corp., has been processing lithium at its Bessemer City plant since the 1950s.