Piedmont Lithium’s first steps toward securing lithium supplies will be in Quebec or Ghana, not the United States, as an intensified regulatory review in North Carolina pushes the miner’s goal to fuel the renaissance of the U.S. electric vehicle battery. anchoring, slows down, 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 ensure U.S. energy independence but now faces a regulatory swamp — and mines in the finance abroad.
“We think two of our projects will happen faster than our Carolina lithium project: Quebec and Ghana,” CEO Keith Phillips told Reuters. “The (North Carolina) regulators are doing a very good job. It’s a rigorous process. It will happen when it happens.”
Reuters noted that Piedmont was founded in Australia in 2016, but moved its headquarters to North Carolina last year, where it hopes to excavate a 500-foot (150 m) open-cast mine in a $988 million project that will make one of the largest U.S. lithium mines.
The move was intended to be closer to the EV plants being built in the southern US by Toyota, SK Innovation and others.
Piedmont signed a deal in 2020 to start supplying Tesla with lithium from its North Carolina mine sometime between July 2022 and July 2023, but first shipments delayed last year with no definite date for when deliveries could begin.
Reuters reported last summer that Piedmont’s chaotic rollout of that plan — in which it courted investors and Tesla to local residents — had raised concerns about levels of dust, noise and vibration in the area just outside Charlotte.
Those issues are now central to the state mining review process, which officials and the company itself acknowledge has no clear end date. Piemonte has no expectation when the North Carolina branch will open.
As opposition to the North Carolina mine grew, Piedmont last year invested in Quebec-focused Sayona Mining and Ghana-focused Atlantic Lithium, according to Reuters.
Meanwhile, the reported addition, Albemarle, the world’s largest lithium miner, is hiring and buying land in a neighboring North Carolina county as it considers reopening a disused spodumene lithium mine that would compete directly with Piedmont.
Regulators in North Carolina asked Piedmont in January for more details on 12 points they believe were not adequately explained in the company’s mining license application, according to registration filings cited by Reuters.
Albemarle is conducting the first geological tests and the project could open by 2027, spokesman 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, in part 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 spark great interest from the country’s nascent battery sector, Reuters noted.