Economy

First U.S. Graphite Processing Plant to Be Built in Coosa County

Westwater Resources Inc. is planning to build a graphite processing plant in Coosa County. (Source: Westwater Resources)

MONTGOMERY — A first-of-its-kind advanced graphite processing plant in Coosa County will bring an overall investment of $124 million to Alabama, Gov. Kay Ivey announced Tuesday.

The plant, which will be known as Alabama Graphite Products, will help with the production of an essential material in batteries that power electric vehicles, electronics and other green energy products.

“This plant not only will make Alabama the U.S. leader in graphite production, the go-to place for this important resource in battery manufacturing, it also will elevate our standing even more as a major player in the fast-growing electric vehicle sector,” Ivey said. “We’re home to four major auto plants, and the ability to source precious materials in state for the lithium-ion batteries used in electric and hybrid vehicles will be a big plus in attracting other manufacturing jobs to the state.”

Westwater Resources Inc., a Colorado-based mineral resources company, will be in charge of operations at the new plant. The company said in a press release from Ivey’s office that construction will start later this year with the plan to start processing operations by the end of 2022.

The plant is expected to employ at least 100 full-time, permanent workers with an average hourly wage of $21.15.

Graphite is a key component in lithium-ion batteries, as well as a conductivity enhancer for all types of batteries, including the common lead-acid batteries in traditional vehicles.

Ivey was joined by Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield for Tuesday’s announcement who said the plant was a unique opportunity for Alabama.

“It complements perfectly our auto industry and what these automakers are doing with (electric vehicles) here in Alabama,” Canfield said. “Mercedes and Hyundai have announced major expansion projects specifically for the manufacturing of electric vehicles. Plus, these are well-paying, sustainable jobs that will spur additional economic development and even more jobs in the area.”

An agreement signed by Ivey will provide Alabama Graphite Products jobs and tax credits under the Alabama Jobs Act totaling an estimated $29.9 million over 15 years. In addition, AIDT, the state’s primary workforce development agency, is providing Alabama Graphite Products $925,000 in job-training and employee recruitment incentives.

Local incentives for the project, estimated to total approximately $4.7 million, are expected to include tax abatements and use of 80 acres at Lake Martin Industrial Park at no cost. In addition, a bridge will be built to provide additional access to the industrial park, a press release said.

Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville, who Canfield said has been working behind the scenes to bring the plant to Alabama, said on Tuesday that this was a great move for the state and for his district especially.

“When I was first elected, that was the theme: ‘Senator we need jobs, we need to have new industry here.’ And not only are we able to announce this great industry today, but a leader in the industry,” Chambliss said. “Not just a run-of-the-mill somebody, but a leader in the industry is coming to Coosa and Tallapoosa counties to employ and to allow you to make a profit and to help those of us who are so dependent on these batteries. We need them, both in our cell phones and all the way up to our vehicles and everything in between.”

Coosa County had an unemployment rate of 2.6% in May, less than the state rate of 3.4%, according to the Alabama Department of Labor.

In addition to making Alabama home to the first large-scale producer of refined graphite in the U.S., Alabama Graphite plans to mine raw graphite in western Coosa County in part of what was known as the “Alabama Graphite Belt.”

Westwater Resources acquired mineral rights to 42,000 graphite-deposit-rich acres in 2018 and expects to begin mining operations by 2028.

Alabama Graphite’s processing plant will produce approximately 7,500 tons of battery-grade graphite a year initially, eventually expanding to 15,000. The battery in an average EV needs about 175-200 pounds of graphite.

The demand for graphite is only expected to continue to grow with 400 kilotons consumed in 2021 to possibly 2,200 kilotons by 2030.