Piedmont seeks federal loan, says lithium deliveries to Tesla will be delayed

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Piedmont Lithium, the Belmont-based company that wants to create one of the largest U.S. lithium mines in Gaston County, is seeking a loan from the U.S. Department of Energy as one option to support the financing of its $840 million project.

The news came in a press release today that updated the company’s plans for the project, which call for producing 30,000 tons of lithium hydroxide that is expected to be used in batteries that power electric vehicles. Piedmont has previously signed a contract to provide the chemicals to EV market  leader Tesla between June 2022 and July 2023. Today’s release didn’t mention Tesla, but noted “The initial delivery dates contemplated in our existing spodumene concentrate sales agreement have been extended by mutual agreement.”

While the federal loan program is a possibility, the company is “evaluating multiple sources of capital to support our already solid balance sheet,” spokesperson Brian Risinger said in an email. Possibilities could include investments from companies producing batteries, autos or even oil and gas operators, he said.

While Piedmont has received some preliminary approvals required for the project, it said plans to apply for a critical permit from the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Energy, Mineral and Land Resources later this month. Consideration of that permit is likely to take several months as scientific and technical data is reported and analyzed.

Gaston County commissioners criticized Piedmont officials at a July 20 meeting, complaining that the company hadn’t kept them apprised of the project’s progress. Some local residents are also opposing the plan on environmental grounds. Piedmont says it has acquired mining rights for more than 2,000 acres of which as much as 700 acres would be used for mining. The Gaston board  must approve the project, according to Piedmont’s press release.

Piedmont also reported that it is making progress on plans for lithium mining projects in Quebec, Canada and Ghana. “Quebec is poised to become an important lithium production center and Piedmont Lithium is acquiring a significant stake in the province’s largest and best-located spodumene resource,” CEO Keith Phillips said in the statement.

About 500 people are expected to be employed at the Gaston mine and processing sites, which will be among the largest corporate investments in county history, Piedmont officials have said. The company says it had a cash balance of $143 million as of June 30 and says it has sufficient funds to operate its pre-construction activity through the end of 2022.

 

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