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Science And Nature

The electric vehicle boom could bring lithium mines back again to NEW YORK

In the Piedmont region of NEW YORK, about 50 miles east of the Blue Ridge mountains, a thin, 25 mile-long belt of ore stretches north from the southern state line. The strip, called the Carolina Tin-Spodumene Belt, provides the countrys largest hard rock deposit of lithium.

Back the 1950s, lithium gained importance as an element of nuclear bombs and pharmaceuticals, and the region around Kings Mountain, near Charlotte, saw a significant boom in mining. For approximately 30 years, the spot supplied virtually all the lithium on earth. Then in the 1980s, production moved to lower-cost operations overseas. Today, significantly less than 1 percent of global lithium is mined in the usa, all in one mine in Nevada; a large proportion originates from Chile, Australia, and China.

But as nations seek to cut emissions and transition to completely clean energy sources, demand for the metal is increasing, and the U.S. is seeking to crank up production within its borders. Last summer, President Joe Biden signed an executive order calling for electric vehicles, which be determined by lithium-based batteries, to create up 50 percent of most new vehicle sales by 2030. The Inflation Reduction Act, recently signed into law, aims to incentivize a domestic battery supply chain, providing tax breaks for mines and credits for electric cars and grid storage applications whenever a percentage of the battery is produced or recycled in the U.S.

A lithium-ion battery for the electric Volkswagon ID.3 is stored in a factory warehouse. Jan Woitas / picture alliance via Getty Images

Now, mining companies are once more eyeing NEW YORK because they seek to capitalize on the booming market for electric vehicles and renewable energy storage. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that three known spodumene deposits in your community around Kings Mountain, Bessemer City, and Cherryville include a combined 426,600 metric a great deal of lithium. That amount, which include reserves that may be economically extracted at the moment along with other estimated resources, will be enough to provide batteries for over 50 million electric vehicles.

Piedmont Lithium Inc., a 2016 Australian startup, acquired a large number of acres in Gaston County and signed a deal to provide lithium to Tesla in 2020. It ultimately relocated its headquarters to NEW YORK this past year. Albemarle, a specialty chemical manufacturing company and something of the biggest lithium producers on the planet, has invested about $100 million in a possible project in neighboring Cleveland County.

an aerial view of buildings in the middle of a brown wilderness

A former lithium mine in Kings Mountain that closed in the 1980s is currently being considered by Albemarle because the site of a fresh, expanded operation. Thanks to Albemarle

The business started buying land in Gaston County in 2016, ultimately acquiring or gaining mineral rights to over 3,000 acres. In 2018, it told investors that it likely to have the necessary permits the next year to create an $988 million extractive hub and processing facility. The vision included four 500-foot deep mines and a chemical plant which could convert the mineral spodumene into 22,700 metric a great deal of lithium hydroxide annually.

By September 2020, Piedmont Lithium had signed a deal to provide Tesla a third of the mines annual output, enough to power at the very least 350,000 Teslas per year, for 10 years. It hadnt even requested state permits and a county zoning variance yet. It took another year prior to the community heard the detailed proposal for the mine, at Piedmont Lithiums first public meeting prior to the Gaston County Commissioners last summer.

It had been the worst rollout of an economic development plan ever, Brown said. They visited every stakeholder before they found us.

Lights shine from the Albemarle lithium processing plant in Kings Mountain Thanks to Albemarle.

An outpouring of public pushback has effectively stalled the project. Residents say their questions about loud blasting, increased truck traffic, vibrations, dust, and quality of air haven’t been adequately addressed by the mine. The county board of commissioners put a temporary moratorium on mining to update their local codes this past year; in addition they hired an unbiased hydrologist. Digging a big open pit in the bottom lowers the water table, in addition to the spodumene refining process is both water- and carbon-intensive. It produces chemical waste at multiple intervals with prospect of spills and surface and groundwater contamination; residents worry their wells and rivers could possibly be poisoned or run dry.

They said the operation will undoubtedly be completely safe, said Lisa Stroup, who lives two miles south of the proposed Piedmont Lithium site and worked at a lithium hydroxide plant in nearby Bessemer City. Having caused lithium, I could tell you you’ll find nothing safe about any of it, she noted of the highly caustic and erosive metal.

An indicator signals opposition to a proposed mine in Gaston County, NEW YORK. Many residents took a stand against Piedmont Lithiums proposal to build up a lithium mine in your community. Right, felled logs rest on land owned by Piedmont Lithium. Photos thanks to Stop Piedmont Lithium

Stroup lives one mile north from a vintage Hallman-Beam lithium mine that has been eventually purchased by the business Martin Marietta and mined for gravel. When these were actively mining quarry rock, this place was a dust bowl, said Stroup. Historically now, Gaston County contains arsenic levels above EPA standards in a number of public drinking wells, a phenomenon connected with hardrock mining.

Anytime someone gets sick around here everyone says, Im confident its something in the air or in the water from the mine, she said.

In the ongoing permitting process, hawaii has expressed concerns about Piedmont Lithiums chemical disposal plans; the business recently requested a 180-day extension to perform its Leaching Environmental Assessment Framework, something for evaluating the release of potentially harmful substances for a number of solid materials, including mine waste. If it can acquire state permits, it still must make an application for zoning changes from the county board of commissioners, several members which have previously spoken out contrary to the project.

Lithium deliveries from Piedmont to Tesla were likely to start as soon as this summer, however the company is currently targeting 2026. Meanwhile, Piedmont Lithium has been sued by its shareholders for failing woefully to disclose information regarding permits and local opposition that caused stock prices to fall. At this time, the business has only done exploratory drilling at the website and recently committed to mines in Ghana and Quebec to source lithium as the NEW YORK project is delayed.

I dont feel just like weve won yet at all, said Stroup. She along with other local residents remain waiting for the results of hawaii mining review. Weren’t against alternative fuel sources or modes of transportation, but we feel there need to be better answers.


In adjacent Cleveland County, lithium mining has been received more favorably. Scott Niesler, the mayor of Kings Mountain, supports Albemarles intend to reopen and expand a shuttered lithium mine right beyond town.

Mining has been portion of the fabric of the city because the 1920s, said Scott. And Albemarle is really a strong, established company that might be an excellent corporate citizen.

One of the primary lithium players out there, Albemarle produces in regards to a third of the worlds lithium, mostly from mines in Australia and SOUTH USA. In addition, it runs the countrys only fully operational lithium mine in Silver Peak, Nevada, where in fact the metal is mined from brine instead of spodumene.

Headquartered in Charlotte, Albemarle already includes a presence in Kings Mountain, where it runs a study facility and operates among the areas two plants that produce lithium hydroxide, a compound valued because of its capability to hold a fee for extended periods of time, making it the very best for high-energy-density batteries. About 50 % the material for the plant originates from the companys Nevada mine, and the others originates from Chile.

a man in a green vest and hard hat walks past a turqouise lake

A lithium mine supervisor inspects an evaporation pond of lithium-rich brine in the Atacama Desert on August 24, 2022 in Salar de Atacama, Chile. Albemarle Corporation, located in Charlotte, N.C. is expanding mining operations at their Salar Plant to meet up the rising global demand for lithium carbonate, a primary component in the manufacture of batteries, increasingly for electric vehicles. John Moore / Getty Images)

In 2015, Albemarle bought a water-filled pit from Rockwood Lithium. The mine have been operational from the late 1930s to the 1980s and Albemarle is seeking to reopen the website, expanding and deepening the pit. Theres already a hole there, said Niesler, pointing out that the region has already been zoned for industrial use.

Albemarle is doing environmental impact studies and acquiring more acreage through handles landowners, but we’ve not made your final investment decision so far, said Alexander Thompson, Vice President of Lithium Resources for the business. Our pathway to production is at the mercy of community engagement.

The business had its first formal community meeting in March and contains promised to host quarterly town halls. Its also likely to open an office around where people can drop by to ask questions.

Still, engagement can only just go up to now when so much remains unknown concerning the environmental impacts of lithium mining in your community; Albemarle readily admits the studies will need years, and a mine wouldnt open until 2027. At the first town hall, which overflowed from the town council chamber in to the hallway, questions arose about dust, traffic, water, and hazardous waste.

a hand holds a beaker of white powder in front of a sign that says albemarle

Albemarle Corporation spokesman Marcelo Valdebenito holds a bottle of processed lithium carbonate at a lithium mine on August 24, 2022 in Salar de Atacama, Chile. John Moore / Getty Images

While lithium extraction methods have improved as time passes, and Albemarle has mentioned wastewater recycling and land reclamation, there’s really no benign method of getting minerals out from the earth, said Timothy Johnson, a specialist on energy, natural resources, and the surroundings at Duke University.

The project scope isn’t yet defined, but Thompson said that 70-100 households will be directly suffering from operations on the land the business already owns, plus they have been contacted.

Henry Hartleb, who moved to the region from Illinois in 2012 and is currently retired, lives 75 feet off the old mine site. He recently decided to an offer of $290,000 for his one-acre property and mill house. But he worries that the offers are too low for his neighbors to get something comparable in your community.

I dont view it having much economic benefit to the city, said Hartleb. Still, he thinks the project will proceed through. People listed below are older, 75 percent are from the region. Its poorer than Gaston County too, and its own a mining community. Theres already an organization continually mining for gravel at a quarry right close to the mine.

Clay Bruggeman, whose home abuts properties purchased by the mine, has yet to produce a decision to market. We have a good life here, if the city and the mine want this to occur its likely to, he said. I must consider whats best for me personally and my children.

As well as the mine, Albemarle has announced plans to produce a mega-flex lithium conversion facility in the U.S. Southeast that could process around 100,000 a great deal of lithium each year. In accordance with Thompson, the Kings Mountain mine would provide half the raw material for the brand new plant. It has the potential to become a multi-decade operation, he said.


North Carolinas vast mineral reserves are simply among the reasons hawaii has been eyed because the next lithium spot. The spot, a longtime hub for car manufacturing, is currently poised to become hub for EVs. Both Toyota and VinFast, a Vietnamese car maker, have announced plans for battery plants in NEW YORK. Ford and Volkswagen are establishing EV assembly plants in Tennessee and battery manufacturers, including Korean SK Innovation in Georgia, are establishing shop over the Southeast.

Right now, as the U.S. may be the second biggest lithium user on the planet, domestic battery plants import virtually all materials from abroad. Thats all section of why Albemarle and Piedmont Lithium desire to source lithium locally in your community.

However the region also exemplifies a distressing truth in the power transition. Studies emphasize the necessity for an instant transition to carbon-free transportation if the U.S. hopes to possess any potential for meeting clean energy goals. But clean energy is clean considering the variable of atmospheric carbon; mining still has local polluting impacts.

Often, mines get developed in places where residents have less political clout and resources to rebel. In the U.S., 79 percent of lithium sits within 35 miles of Indigenous lands. Lithium Americas proposed lithium clay mine at Thacker Pass, sacred land to the Northern Paiute and Western Shoshone, faced vehement opposition from tribes, ranchers, and environmental groups before receiving its permits in February. Around Californias Salton Sea, where trials to commercially develop lithium from geothermal brines are ongoing, several tribes have raised concerns about impacts with their ancestral lands and exclusion from the decision-making process.

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Daranda Hinkey, a member of the Fort McDermitt Paiute Shoshone tribe, stands in a field of sage brush

In other areas of the planet, local pushback to lithium mining has stalled projects in Serbia and Australia. In Chile, where lithium mining from brines has sucked Indigenous lands dry, a left-wing government is wanting to regulate the. Environmental justice groups among others worried about the impacts of mining have categorised as for more transformative transportation planning that reduces the necessity for cars altogether (This might also be essential to meet emission reduction targets). They will have also known as for developing recycling capacity alternatively way to obtain metals.

It requires seven to 10 years to create a fresh mine, and also companies which have done it for a long time face new problems if they try to crank up lithium production, said Jennings-Gray of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence. Because the U.S. scales up lithium mining, the existing insufficient any cathode capacity in the united kingdom means the metal is shipped overseas, a barrier for a completely domestic EV supply chain. [North Carolina] can be an interesting someone to monitor and may certainly produce some significant domestic volumes, said Jennings-Gray. But regardless of what, its likely to be considered a slow climb.


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