Piedmont Lithium’s first steps toward securing lithium supplies will be in Quebec or Ghana, not the United States, as an intensifying North Carolina regulatory review delays the miner’s goal of anchoring America’s electric vehicle battery renaissance, Reuters reported.
The delay has forced Piedmont to expand its strategy beyond its proposed North Carolina mine – a project it has touted as the best way to help secure American energy independence, but one that now faces a regulatory quagmire – and fund mines abroad.
“We think two of our projects will happen faster than our Carolina lithium project: Quebec and Ghana,” chief executive Keith Phillips told Reuters. “The (North Carolina) regulators are doing a very good job. It’s a rigorous process. It’ll happen when it happens.”
Reuters noted Piedmont was founded in 2016 in Australia but moved its headquarters last year to North Carolina, where it hopes to dig a 500 foot deep (150 m deep) open pit mine in a US$988 million project that would be one of the largest US lithium mines.
The relocation was designed to be closer to EV manufacturing plants being built across the US south by Toyota, SK Innovation and others.
Piedmont signed a deal in 2020 to begin supplying Tesla with lithium sometime between July 2022 and July 2023 from the North Carolina mine, but last year delayed the first shipments without a definitive date for when deliveries could begin.
Reuters reported last summer Piedmont’s chaotic roll out of that plan – in which it wooed investors and Tesla before local residents – had fueled concerns about levels of dust, noise and vibrations in the area just outside Charlotte.
Those issues are now the focus of the state mining review process that officials and the company itself acknowledge has no clear end date. Piedmont does not have an expectation for when its North Carolina facility will open.
As opposition to the North Carolina mine grew, Piedmont invested last year in Quebec-focused Sayona Mining and Ghana-focused Atlantic Lithium, Reuters said.
Meanwhile, the reported added, Albemarle, the world’s biggest lithium miner, is hiring staff and buying land in a neighboring North Carolina county as it considers re-opening a mothballed spodumene lithium mine that would compete directly with Piedmont.
North Carolina regulators asked Piedmont in January for more detail on 12 points they felt were not adequately explained in the company’s mining permit application, according to regulatory filings cited by Reuters.
Albemarle is conducting initial geological tests and the project could open by 2027, spokesperson Kim Ronkin Casey told the news agency.
Lithium produced from spodumene rock can be used to make lithium hydroxide, which is prized by EV battery manufacturers partly because it holds a charge longer than the more common lithium carbonate.
The US does not have an active lithium spodumene mine, so the first one to open will garner huge interest from the country’s nascent battery sector, Reuters noted.