New South Carolina plant could process enough lithium for 2.4M EVs a year
Leading global lithium supplier Albemarle will expand its production of battery-grade materials in the U.S., as the country looks to build up a domestic supply chain for clean energy.
The company will build a $1.3 billion lithium processing facility in Chester County, South Carolina, according to a Wednesday announcement. The initial plan is to produce 50,000 metric tons of lithium hydroxide annually, to support domestic battery manufacturing for electric vehicles and energy storage.
Albemarle claims the facility would be able to “support the manufacturing of an estimated 2.4 million electric vehicles” each year. For context, there were just over 800,000 EVs sold in the US last year, per data from Cox Automotive. But demand for EVs has grown rapidly in recent years. The South Carolina factory could double its initial capacity to keep up with demand, the company claims.
"This facility will help increase the production of U.S.-based lithium resources to fuel the clean energy revolution while bringing us closer to our customers as the supply chain is built out in North America," Albemarle CEO Kent Masters said in a statement.
Construction is slated to begin in late 2024, pending permit approvals.
The lithium supply chain starts with mining the earth; the minerals then must be processed into usable feedstock before they end up in batteries. Currently, the U.S. largely depends on mines elsewhere in the world to extract lithium: Albemarle operates the only active lithium mine in the country, Silver Peak in Nevada, and most of the processing happens in China. But when President Joe Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act last year, he enacted policies to beef up domestic supply chains for clean energy.
As Canary Media reported previously:
The Inflation Reduction Act requires eligible new EVs to be assembled in North America and, starting in 2024, to have batteries that were not made by "an entity of foreign concern,” including China. Starting in 2025, the credit will also exclude batteries made with minerals extracted, processed or recycled by these countries of concern. The restrictions could make it hard for many automakers’ EVs to qualify for this tax credit until the U.S. and its allies have developed more battery-production capacity, which could take years.
Tax credits for grid battery projects also give a higher reward to developers who use domestically sourced materials, though the exact definition of that term is still being finalized.
New mining hasn’t shown up yet in the U.S. It’s extremely difficult and time-consuming to spin up, though Albemarle is trying to reopen its Kings Mountain mine in North Carolina. But the Inflation Reduction Act has kicked off a wave of domestic battery factory announcements. Albemarle’s new processing facility would be able to sell materials to that growing battery manufacturing base, offering an alternative to minerals processed in China.
Albemarle calls the forthcoming factory a “mega-flex” site because it will accept a range of inputs, including spodumene from hard rock mining, lithium brine from Nevada, and even recycled battery materials, as U.S. battery recycling ramps up. Last year, the company won a $150 million grant from the Department of Energy to build a concentrator facility to prepare 350,000 metric tons of spodumene concentrate for the forthcoming mega-flex project.
South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster (R) called the announcement “positively electric” and said the anticipated 1,500 construction jobs and 300 permanent jobs — with average annual wages around $93,000, according to Albemarle — would be “transformative” for the state.