A once viable mine could be reactivated and put Kings Mountain on the map in the lithium industry.
With that vision in mind, Albemarle Corp., which owns the old mine and approximately 800 acres of property in Kings Mountain, continues to take steps to make it a reality.
Representatives with the organization will host the first of several meetings to discuss the project with the community at 7 p.m. Monday, March 28, at Kings Mountain City Hall, 101 W. Gold St., Kings Mountain.
That first meeting will serve as an introduction of Albemarle to residents, though the company has been operating a lithium research and processing facility in the community since 2012.
Organizers also say it will be the beginning of a dialogue they hope to continue throughout the process.
Will residents get all their questions answered? Probably not, say Albemarle representatives.
“We don’t have (all the) answers just yet, but we really want to communicate to everybody that we’re starting that process,” said Alex Thompson, vice president of human resources with Albemarle.
Why the love for lithium?
The interest in lithium mining isn’t new, but the uptick in electric vehicles is taking it up a notch.
As more car makers create new battery-powered cars, the need for lithium increases. And with the rising fuel costs, that interest is piquing.
Albemarle has lithium mining operations in Chile and Australia, but if they successfully tap into the resource in Kings Mountain, it will have a significance.
“If this project moves forward, it will be the first hard rock lithium mine in the United States,” said Jennifer Diggins, director of government and community affairs with Albemarle.
That means that unlike many mines which use a brine and evaporation technique, spodumene, which is high in lithium, is extracted directly from the rock by crushing and grinding it.
What work is being done on the property?
Based out of Charlotte, Albemarle’s Kings Mountain facility is located on Holiday Inn Drive a stones throw from I-85.
Last year the company opened the Battery Materials Innovation Center on the property where they say valuable research is underway, research that could improve the longevity of today’s lithium batteries.
“Kings Mountain is the home of one of the world’s best research centers to develop advanced lithium materials,” said Glen Merfeld, chief technology officer with Albemarle. “We've been hiring and developing that team for the last three years, and we’ve got a pretty impressive group there.”
The company employees 170 people and 50 contractors and anticipates hiring hundreds more at various skill levels if and when the mine goes back into operation.
Current salary base is $90,000.
What’s the next step?
The company has been buying property including Hounds Drive-In and Hounds Campground for $22 million earlier this year.
They’ve met with some county and city leaders and will soon do some drilling for testing purposes.
Company representatives say they’re years away from submitting multitude permits while attempting to clear federal, state, county and city hurdles in the process.
“This is the start of a long journey,” said Thompson.
That said, representatives said they’re already having those conversations and looking at future jobs and the education needed to fill them.
Diggins said she’s already met with the superintendent of Cleveland County Schools. She said the company would like to develop programs that send students on a path for some of the geology and research positions needed at Albemarle.
“We need to create that talent pipeline,” she said.
What could the negative impacts be?
As Gaston County had public meetings regarding lithium mine proposed in Cherryville by Piedmont Lithium, some residents shared concerns of noise, dust and traffic congestion.
“We haven’t started that process to really quantify what those impacts will be,” said Thompson.
As part of the process, Thompson said Albemarle would conduct air, water, noise and traffic congestion studies and ways to mitigate any issues.
“This will be a years-long project that we are committed to and committed to doing it the right way,” Diggins added.
Diane Turbyfill can be reached at 704-669-3334 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on The Shelby Star: Corporation takes steps to restart lithium mining in Kings Mountain