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Energy Storage

Albemarle plans US lithium hydroxide facility

Company aims to quadruple global lithium production by 2030

by Matt Blois
June 29, 2022 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 100, Issue 24

A lithium mine and chemical plant operated by Albemarle in Kings Mountain, North Carolina.
Credit: Albemarle
Albemarle is evaluating the feasibility of reopening a lithium mine in North Carolina.

The specialty chemical company Albemarle is planning a large facility in the southeastern US to convert hard rock lithium ore into lithium hydroxide, which is used to make batteries for electric vehicles.

At an industry conference on June 27, Eric Norris, president of Albemarle’s lithium business, said the plant would eventually produce 100,000 metric tons (t) per year of lithium hydroxide, though initial capacity would be lower. He also said Albemarle hopes to increase its global production of lithium chemicals from 120,000 t in 2021 to 500,000 t by 2030, in response to growing demand for electric vehicles.

Albemarle hasn’t selected a location for the conversion plant. A spokesperson says it would be located close to Albemarle’s lithium ore mine in North Carolina.

The North Carolina mine hasn’t produced any ore since 1988, but Albemarle has been evaluating restarting it since early 2021, when prices for lithium started increasing dramatically.

Given the size of the planned lithium hydroxide plant, Daniel Jimenez, founder of the consulting firm iLiMarkets, says he expects Albemarle’s hard rock mines in Australia will be its main supplier of raw material. Albemarle also hopes to use recycled feedstock from used batteries.

Jimenez says Albemarle’s bet on the need for lithium chemicals in the US will likely pay off. The US Department of Energy has tallied more than a dozen battery factories that are slated to open in the US before 2025. Jimenez says cathode materials factories are likely to follow. “That would really trigger the need for lithium chemicals in North America,” he says.

However, lithium sourced from hard rock mines will have a higher carbon footprint than lithium sourced from brines, according to Cameron Perks, a lithium analyst with Benchmark Mineral Intelligence. “Demand for local supply is obviously strong and may trump these emission considerations,” he says in an email.



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