The plant, situated near Alabama’s rich graphite deposits, will refine raw graphite into battery-grade graphite, which helps power electric vehicles and many other products. It is expected to begin operations in 2023.
Gov. Kay Ivey and U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers joined company leaders and local officials for the groundbreaking.
“I want to thank our incredible team, which envisioned and laid the foundation for what is the first graphite plant of its kind anywhere, as well as our state and local partners who made this day possible,” said Chad Potter, president and CEO of Westwater Resources and Alabama Graphite Products.
The plant is expected to produce 7,500 metric tons of refined graphite annually, employing at least 100 people with an average wage above $21 per hour.
“Refined graphite is used as the anode in lithium-ion batteries that are found in EVs and other products, as well as a conductivity enhancer for all types of batteries, including the common lead-acid batteries in traditional vehicles,” the company said in announcing the groundbreaking.
“The batteries found in an average EV need about 175-200 pounds of graphite,” the company said. “There are currently no producers of natural-grade graphite in the U.S. for these types of products. Currently, the refined graphite used in lithium-ion and other batteries is primarily imported from China. As a result, the U.S. government has declared graphite a critical strategic mineral,” the company said.
Speaking at the ceremony, Gov. Kay Ivey said, “Alabama, which is home to Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Hyundai, Toyota and Mazda, is among the top four states in the nation in automobile production. This plant will make Alabama an even bigger player in the fast-growing electric vehicle sector. It also creates jobs and will serve as a catalyst for economic development in the region.”
The company plans to use a proprietary refining process, which it promotes as easier on the environment than the hydrofluoric-acid process used in China.
Since announcing the plant last June, the company has made significant investments, Potter said, including purchase of two buildings — one for warehousing and logistics, one for a laboratory and offices.
The company has also acquired mineral rights to 41,900 acres in Alabama’s graphite belt and expects to be mining there by 2028. In the meantime, the plant will process graphite acquired from outside the U.S., because there is no commercial-level graphite mining in progress in the U.S.