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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Piedmont gets state approval for Gaston lithium mine

Piedmont Lithium‘s shares rose by more than 30% in Monday morning trading after it disclosed it’s received state approval for its Gaston County mine.

The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Energy, Mineral, and Land Resources issued an approval of the mining permit for the construction, operation, and reclamation of the proposed Carolina Lithium project.

Piedmont submitted its application on Aug. 30, 2021. The mining permit is subject to conditions specific to the project.

Mining permit approval is the precursor for the county rezoning process, and Piedmont Lithium said it would continue to hold discussions with the local community and the Gaston County Board of Commissioners.

“We plan to develop Carolina Lithium as one of the lowest-cost, most sustainable lithium hydroxide operations in the world, and as a critical part of the American electric vehicle supply chain,” said Piedmont Lithium CEO Keith Phillips in a statement. “The project is expected to contribute billions of dollars of economic output and several hundred jobs to Gaston County and North Carolina’s growing electrification economy.”

Belmont-based Piedmont Lithium’s shares rose $3.80, or 30%, to $16.48 in Monday morning trading. Earlier in the day, the shares were was high as $16.57.

Gaston County Commission Chair Chad Brown communicated with Phillips via text on Sunday, he says. Brown says he told Phillips the earliest he could get on the county’s agenda would probably be July.

“This will be one of the biggest economic development projects that has ever been brought to Gaston County,” says Brown, the Republican nominee for Secretary of State. “Now we have to figure out what will be the best inclinations for our community.”

Located within both the renowned Carolina Tin-Spodumene Belt and the U.S. Battery Belt, the project is being designed as a fully integrated mining, spodumene concentrate and lithium hydroxide manufacturing operation.

Lithium is an important ingredient for electronic vehicle batteries. In the past year, Toyota has announced an EV battery plant in North Carolina, and Vietnam-based Vinfast announced plans for an EV vehicle plant in the state as well.

The proposed mine, which is expected to produce 30,000 metric tons/year of lithium hydroxide, has been slowed by regulatory hurdles after local residents raised objections about the project’s environmental impact.

Piedmont Lithium said that construction would begin after receipt of all required permits, rezoning approvals, and project financing activities. Commissioner Brown says he’s been told it would take until at least 2029 before Piedmont Lithium could get the site ready for mining. He says the Gaston County community remains divided about the project, with those living closest to the proposed mine being the most opposed.

The land for the proposed mine is now zoned residential. The county has hired a hydrologist and contracted legal help to help it with the zoning process, says Brown.

“The County Commission and Gaston County only has one chance and if we get it wrong there’s a lot of lives impacted,” says Brown. “We don’t have the leeway of we can fix it after it’s broke.” Residents in that area use wells for water, and that’s one of the major concerns about the mine from residents, says Brown.

Piedmonth Lithium say it has had extensive and ongoing dialogue with possible funding sources for Carolina Lithium, including the U.S. Department of Energy’s Loan Programs Office and strategic partners.

Lithium prices fell by 80% in 2023. Piedmont Lithium laid off 16 workers, or about a quarter of its staff, earlier this year as part of an effort to reduce expenses by $10 million annually.

The company is working with a joint venture partner to improve productivity and cut costs at its lithium mine in Quebec. Piedmont Lithium also has a plant in Ghana where it hopes to receive permits by the end of this year, while it’s also exploring selling a 50% stake in the operation.

Meanwhile, the company has deferred engineering expenses and other development costs at proposed mines in Tennessee and North Carolina.

— Managing Editor Kevin Ellis contributed to this report.

 

Chris Roush
Chris Roush
Chris Roush is executive editor of Business North Carolina. He can be reached at croush@businessnc.com.

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