Westwater Resources Inc. will build a first-of-its-kind advanced graphite processing plant in Coosa County, AL, putting the state at the forefront in the production of an essential material in batteries that power electrical vehicles, electronics and other green energy products and equipment.
Westwater’s subsidiary Alabama Graphite Products LLC will make an initial investment of at least $80 million to build the graphite processing plant in Kellyton, near Alexander City. A second phase of the project will increase the total investment to $124 million. The Coosa County graphite plant will employ at least 100 full-time, permanent workers paying an average hourly wage of $21.15.
Construction will start later this year, with the graphite processing plant operating by the end of 2022, according to Centennial, CO-based Westwater.
“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,” said Governor Kay Ivey. “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 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.
“I want to thank Governor Ivey, Secretary Canfield, other state leaders and the many local officials in Alexander City and Coosa County who worked with us to make this vision come true,” said Chris Jones, President and CEO of Westwater Resources. “The people of Alabama have been very welcoming since day one, and their cooperation has been integral in putting together the many pieces needed for us to build this innovative plant in Alabama. We look forward to being an active member of the business community here for many years to come.”
An 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.
“This is a great project for Alabama for many reasons,” said Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “It complements perfectly our auto industry and what these automakers are doing with EVs here in Alabama. Mercedes and Hyundai have announced major expansion projects specifically for the manufacturing of electric vehicles.
“Plus, these are well-paying, sustainable jobs that will spur additional economic development and even more jobs in the area,” he added.
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.
In addition to making Alabama home to the first large-scale producer of refined graphite in the U.S., Alabama Graphite plans to mine raw graphite in western Coosa County in part of what was known as the “Alabama Graphite Belt.” Westwater Resources acquired mineral rights to 42,000 graphite-deposit-rich acres in 2018 and expects to begin mining operations by 2028.
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.
Westwater’s Jones noted that the U.S. government has declared graphite critical to the nation’s economy and national security.
“All of the graphite used and needed in the United States, including by America’s auto industry, is imported,” he said. “Most of it is from China, where media have reported both worker and environmental issues. Domestic production of graphite reduces our dependence on foreign sources. Even though the raw graphite we will process into battery-grade material will be imported initially, none of it will be from China. We have secured agreements from other providers.”
Alabama Graphite will use a proprietary process to purify the raw graphite and refine it into battery grade purity. That process is safer and more environmentally friendly and sustainable than the hydrofluoric acid-based process commonly used in China and elsewhere that use more water and produces more environment-damaging byproducts.
“One of our core values is safety. We’re protective of our workers, the community and the environment,” Jones said. “Whether it’s mining or processing graphite, our company is committed to doing it in an environmentally safe, sustainable manner. The biggest virtue of electric vehicles and other battery-powered products is they reduce carbon emissions and are better for the environment. Producing the key materials for those batteries, we believe, can and should be done in an environmentally responsible way as well.”
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