By Dashiell Coleman
U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry stopped by his native Gaston County this week to learn more about a local lithium-mining project.
Piedmont Lithium has plans to begin mining lithium-rich spodumene here in the coming years, creating about 100 jobs at first with more down the road for a secondary operation. Lithium is in demand because it’s a key component in the batteries used to power electric cars.
“I think it’s quite impressive that we’ve got a really important global resource right here in Gaston County, and now we have the thinking and ingenuity and people willing to take the risk to do something with it,” McHenry said.
The congressman toured Piedmont’s operation off Dallas Cherryville Highway on his way to a Cub Scout meeting in Lincoln County. Piedmont, which was formed by Australia-based Apollo Group, has been acquiring property and drilling off Hephzibah Church Road for the last two years.
Ultimately, the company plans to operate a pit mine in the area, and is going through federal and state permitting now. Company officials expect to seek rezoning from the county later this year. The land sits on the Carolina Tin-Spodumene Belt, which is the only of its kind in the United States.
Piedmont Vice President for Project Management Patrick Brindle said there’s as much as 750 million tons or ore in the belt, making it one of the “most important lithium deposits in the world.” Lithium mining actually has a strong history in Gaston County, with major operations throughout the last half of the 1900s.
The operation would be an open pit mine with a depth of about 500 feet. Blasting could occur daily, and Piedmont Lithium expects “around two trucks per hour” during daytime hours to haul away material from the site.
So far, Piedmont has spent about $20 million to get the operation up and running, and Brindle says the total first phase impact could be about $130 million. The second phase is expected to have an economic impact of up to $340 million. The company has acquired or entered agreements allowing it to operate on about 1,800 acres so far, and it’s been drilling since 2017.
“Our goal when we’re at full production would be, firstly, to produce about 170,000 tons of spodumene concentrate a year,” Brindle told The Gazette previously. “The long-term goal would be to build a new lithium chemicals business here in the region … and that would have a capacity of just under 23,000 tons a year of lithium hydroxide.”
Brindle says the U.S. produces less than 1% of the world’s lithium.
McHenry said the local operation could help keep the U.S. competitive as demand for lithium increases.
“I think it’s a really important thing for our national security to make sure that we are competitive against Russia and China, who have a significant interest in using their mineral resources to disadvantage us,” McHenry said. “I think this helps level the playing field.”
Read the full article from the Shelby Star here.
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