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Lithium mine reopening on strength of $239.7M in federal grants

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(The Center Square) – A Kings Mountain lithium mine shuttered since 1988, estimated capable of supporting the production of 1.2 million electric vehicles annually for 30 years, will reopen.

Charlotte-based Albemarle, the world’s largest producer of lithium, received a $90 million grant from the Department of Defense this week to expand domestic production of the raw mineral used to manufacture electric vehicle batteries. The grant follows a $149.7 million grant Albemarle received from the Biden administration last year for a North Carolina processing facility.

The agreement announced Tuesday comes through the Defense Production Act with funding from the Inflation Reduction Act.

“The agreement with Albemarle demonstrated the DoD’s ongoing commitment to meeting the needs of our warfighter, today and in the future,” Anthony Di Stasio, director of the Manufacturing Capability Expansion and Investment Prioritization office, said in a prepared statement. “This investment directly supports President Biden’s April 2022 Presidential Determination for Critical Materials in Large-Capacity Batteries.”

The determination aims to strengthen domestic supply chains for minerals used in batteries including lithium, nickel, cobalt, graphite, and manganese, supporting the Biden administration’s goal of electric vehicles comprising half of all new cars and trucks sold in the U.S. by 2030. In North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper set a goal of 1.25 million electric vehicle registrations by 2030.

Albemarle, which acquired the Kings Mountain site in 2015, will use the federal funding to purchase a fleet of mining equipment, with plans to start operations “as early as 2026,” according to a release. The company also has operations in Nevada and Chile. The Nevada site is the only active lithium mine in the U.S.

“As one of the only U.S.-based lithium companies to carry out lithium extraction, processing, and novel lithium battery material research in the United States, Albemarle is uniquely positioned to help power the clean energy revolution,” Eric Norris, the company’s president of energy storage, said in a statement. “Lithium is an essential ingredient in our sustainable energy future. Demand is expected to increase significantly, and it is imperative to secure our nation’s supply of this critical resource.”

The mine, one of the few known hard rock lithium deposits in the U.S., was operational between 1938 and 1988, before closing down amid the discovery of less expensive lithium sources in South America.

The site in the Charlotte suburb of 11,000 is currently a pit filled with water. Albemarle officials have held quarterly town hall meetings to vet the project, prompting concerns from some residents about noise and other issues with mining activities and the potential need to relocate.

Local officials have noted the project could produce hundreds of jobs and cited the town’s long history as a mining community.

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