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Piedmont Lithium picks east Tennessee for lithium plant

090122 Piedmont Lithium processing plant rendering.jpeg
Piedmont Lithium
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Architect's drawing of Piedmont Lithium's planned Tennessee Lithium Plant.

Piedmont Lithium has picked a site in eastern Tennessee for a $600 million lithium processing plant. The Belmont-based company says it believes the plant will be the largest in the U.S. when it opens in 2025.

The plant in Etowah, in McMinn County, will process about 30,000 tons a year of lithium from mines in Canada and West Africa. Piedmont plans to sell the lithium to producers of electric vehicles and batteries.

The plant will have about 120 employees.

“We are excited to announce the site of our newest project and partnership with the City of Etowah in McMinn County, and the State of Tennessee, as we advance our strategic goal of becoming a leading lithium supplier in the United States,” Piedmont CEO Keith Phillips said in a press release.

Piedmont Lithium is also in the midst of seeking approvals for a lithium mine and processing operation in northern Gaston County. That project has been delayed amid requests for more information by state mining regulators and faces opposition from Gaston County commissioners and residents.

Because of those delays, Piedmont Lithium said this spring that it has contracted to acquire lithium from other sources. It has said production is expected to begin in Quebec in the first half of 2023 and in Ghana in 2024.

CEO Keith Phillips said Piedmont hopes to begin mining in Gaston County in 2026.

"We're still optimistic we'll be fully permitted at some point in 2023. We're contemplating construction beginning in 2024, and first production in 2026. So we're very excited about that. We feel good about that timeline," Phillips told WFAE last week.

Piedmont spokeswoman Erin Sanders said the Tennessee plant would be nearly identical to the one planned in Gaston County. "A sister plant, in other words," she said in an email.

"There is a great need for lithium hydroxide that’s domestically produced, and that is why we’re developing two plants — to help support this demand. Combined, they'll produce 60,000 tons per year which is enough (lithium hydroxide) to power 1 million EVs," she said.

Piedmont Lithium plans to pay for the Tennessee plant with a combination of debt and equity. The company has applied to the Department of Energy for an Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing loan, Sanders said.

David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.