US Moving to Reclaim Leadership in Lithium Production

Two plants in North Carolina and Nevada are the beneficiaries of the Obama Administration’s quest to reclaim a leadership position in lithium manufacturing, a key component of electric vehicle batteries and consumer electronics.

The US was a leader in lithium production during the 1990s, but it now imports the majority from sources in South America, just as demand for lithium has risen rapidly.

Lithium batteries are also important for their ability to integrate renewable energy into the grid.

The Department of Energy (DOE) made a $28.4 million investment in Rockwood Lithium, a division of Rockwood Holdings (NYSE: ROC) to expand US capacity. The investment, made through the Recovery Act, came to fruition in June, when Rockwood opened its expanded manufacturing plant in North Carolina. An expanded plant in Nevada opens soon. Rockwell leveraged DOE’s investment by more than $46 million in additional private sector funding.

Rockwood is one of 48 investments in DOE’s Vehicle Technologies Program, which is positioning the US to be able to supply batteries and components for over 500,000 electric vehicles a year. Funding has been dedicated to R&D efforts to make batteries safer, higher-performing and longer-lasting, and on expanding manufacturing capacity, as is the case with Rockwood Lithium.

"With support from the Energy Department, this project will make America more competitive in a range of new technologies and will help ensure the United States leads once again in manufacturing the next generation of clean energy and advanced vehicle technologies," says Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

The Rockwood Lithium investment echoes DOE’s 2010 $24.6 million award to BASF Catalysts LLC for a facility in Elyria, Ohio, that is producing critical components of lithium-ion batteries. 

The technology is licensed from DOE’s Argonne National Lab, and when the plant is fully operational this year, it will be the most advanced cathode materials production plant in North America.

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