Piedmont Lithium chose Etowah, Tennessee as the site of a 30,000 metric tons per year lithium hydroxide plant, with completion and start of production expected in 2025. Lithium hydroxide is in high demand for electric vehicle batteries and is also used to make grease thickening soaps.
The U.S. $600 million project is expected to convert spodumene concentrate sourced principally from Piedmont’s international investments. This will significantly expand the United States’ supply of lithium hydroxide.
The company said that to improve sustainability, the Tennessee facility should be among the first lithium hydroxide plants built with a process that eliminates acid-leaching of spodumene and the production sodium sulfate waste.
Tennessee Lithium’s production target of 30,000 t/y of lithium hydroxide will complement the Company’s planned Carolina Lithium operation to bring the company’s estimated total U.S.-based production capacity to 60,000 t/y by 2026. According to the company, current total U.S. production of lithium hydroxide is just 15,000 t/y.
Typically, lithium hydroxide is used to thicken around 70% of lubricating greases, while the growing e-mobility megatrend has increasingly seen it siphoned away for battery production in recent years. Approximately 75% of grease produced globally contains simple lithium soap or lithium complex thickeners.
In recent years, prices for lithium hydroxide rose due to steep demand for lithium-ion batteries in electronic devices and electric vehicles, though producers saw a reprieve at the end of 2019 due to a significant increase in supply volumes.
“The rapid electrification of the automotive market has led to massive investments in electric vehicle and lithium-ion battery production in the United States, creating a critical need for lithium hydroxide produced in the U.S.,” Keith Phillips, president and CEO of Piedmont Lithium Phillips, said in a press release. “Our Tennessee Lithium operation should play an important role in helping to mitigate supply shortages in the American EV industry and battery supply chain, particularly in the wake of recent legislation incentivizing the use of domestically sourced critical materials and providing tax credits for U.S. producers.”
The company said it chose the Tennessee location in part for its access to transport infrastructure and its proximity with the company’s headquarters and Carolina Lithium project, both in Gaston County, North Carolina. The Carolina Lithium project will offer integrated spodumene concentrate and lithium hydroxide production, which is expected to start in 2026.