In Kings Mountain, North Carolina, there’s a tree-filled park that provides urbanites from nearby Charlotte some respite in nature. At its center is a tranquil pond, featuring turtles, fish and other wildlife. The sparkling waters, which plunge some 150 feet deep, are the result of decades of accumulated rainfall in a defunct lithium mine. Albemarle Corp., the world’s largest producer of the silvery white metal, is on a quest to restart operations.
The project is a crucial component of a plan by automakers to create the US’s first complete supply chain for electric vehicle batteries, to reduce their dependence on China. In EV batteries, there’s no substitute for lithium. If the Kings Mountain mine can proceed, Albemarle envisions processing the lithium it produces at a facility the company would open in the US Southeast. And carmakers including General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. have committed to investing in new domestic plants to make EV battery cells. “The industry is looking for a localized supply chain,” says Albemarle Chief Executive Officer Kent Masters. “We’re trying to build the first building blocks for that with lithium.”