Alabama nets first US graphite processing plant; critical for electric vehicle batteries

Published: Jun. 21, 2021 at 4:27 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 22, 2021 at 11:27 AM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Gov. Kay Ivey was joined by economic advisors and others Tuesday morning to make a major economic development announcement that will provide jobs and help the state’s booming automotive industry as it continues to shift toward electric vehicles.

Ivey confirmed an agreement has been reached with Colorado-based Westwater Resources, Inc. and its subsidiary, Alabama Graphite Products, to bring a first-of-its-kind graphite processing plant to the state. It will be located in Coosa County and will create around 100 jobs the Tallapoosa and Coosa county areas that pay an average of $21.15 per hour.

An initial investment of $80 million or more will be spent to build the plant in Kellyton, near Alexander City. A second phase of the project will push the total investment to $124 million.

“This plant not only will make Alabama the U.S. leader in graphite production, the go-to place for this important resource in battery manufacturing, it also will elevate our standing even more as a major player in the fast-growing electric vehicle sector,” Gov. Ivey said. “We’re home to four major auto plants, and the ability to source precious materials in state for the lithium-ion batteries used in electric and hybrid vehicles will be a big plus in attracting other manufacturing jobs to the state.”

Graphite, deemed critical to the nation’s economy and national security, is a key component in lithium-ion batteries, as well as a conductivity enhancer for all types of batteries, including the common lead-acid batteries in traditional vehicles. The US currently imports all of its graphite from other countries like China.

“This is the first battery graphite processing facility of its kind anywhere,” said Chris Jones, the CEO of Westwater Resources and Alabama Graphite Products. “We are proud to bring it to Alabama.”

Westwater Resources acquired mineral rights to 42,000 graphite-deposit-rich acres in 2018 and expects to begin mining operations by 2028.

“Certainly the Alabama Graphite Belt played a role,” in bringing the facility to the state, but Jones added “it is the pro-business environment and the commitment to growing the state’s economy and creating jobs here in Alabama that made the difference.”

The CEO pledged “one of our core values is safety. We’re protective of our workers, the community and the environment.”

The state’s agreement, signed by the governor, will provide Alabama Graphite Products jobs and tax credits under the Alabama Jobs Act totaling an estimated $29.9 million over 15 years. In addition, AIDT, the state’s primary workforce development agency, is providing Alabama Graphite Products $925,000 in job-training and employee recruitment incentives.

Local incentives for the project, estimated to total approximately $4.7 million, are expected to include tax abatements and use of 80 acres at Lake Martin Industrial Park at no cost. In addition, a bridge will be built to provide additional access to the industrial park.

As part of the project, water and wastewater treatment will be provided by Alexander City. To support this effort, Alabama Graphite Products has entered into a public-private partnership to upgrade Alexander City’s wastewater treatment system with a contribution of $400,000 and prepayment of $100,000 in treatment fees.

Alabama Graphite’s processing plant will produce approximately 7,500 tons of battery-grade graphite a year initially, eventually expanding to 15,000. The battery in an average EV needs about 175-200 pounds of graphite. Ford’s new electric F-150 truck, the Lightning, is expected to need roughly 450 pounds of graphite.

Construction will start later in 2021 with the plant becoming operational by the end of 2022.

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