Expanded North Carolina Lithium Facility Opens, Boosting U.S. Production of a Key Manufacturing Material

June 29, 2012

Today, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu recognized the opening of Rockwood Lithium's expanded manufacturing facility in Kings Mountain, North Carolina. Rockwood is leveraging a $28.4 million investment from the Recovery Act to expand its North Carolina lithium production facility as well as its production operations in Silver Peak, Nevada. This project will create 100 new jobs and dramatically increase the United States' capacity to produce lithium, which is a key material in a number of growing industries, including advanced vehicle batteries and consumer electronics. The federal investment leveraged more than $34 million in additional private sector funding as part of the Obama Administration's comprehensive strategy to grow American manufacturing in clean energy technologies and create jobs in globally competitive markets.

"The Kings Mountain facility expansion exemplifies American manufacturing leadership and technical expertise in clean energy technologies— helping to strengthen our nation's energy security and create new jobs," said Secretary Chu. "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."

As the market for electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids and other advanced clean energy technologies grows worldwide, rare earth elements and other critical materials, including lithium, are facing increasing global demand. The Kings Mountain and Silver Peak plants will produce lithium hydroxide and lithium carbonate, which are both used to produce lithium-ion batteries, dramatically increasing U.S. domestic production of raw and processed lithium materials.

"The expansion of Rockwood will not only allow the company to upgrade the production of lithium materials but it will put talented scientists, engineers, and production personnel to work here in North Carolina. Thanks in part to a Department of Energy grant, this expansion puts Rockwood and the state of North Carolina at the forefront of advanced battery technology. This is an investment in a clean energy future that I will continue to urge my colleagues in the U.S. Senate to support," said U.S. Senator Kay Hagan.

As more clean energy technologies are manufactured and sold around the world, the demand for critical materials has grown substantially, outpacing the demand for major metals such as steel. Between 1980 and 2009, the demand for lithium has tripled. After holding world leadership in lithium production in the early 1990s, the United States now imports the majority of its lithium materials and compounds from South America.

Lithium-ion batteries are a key component in electric vehicles and other rechargeable batteries for consumer electronics, and are used in the production of plug-in electric vehicles on the market today. These batteries can also have a major impact on energy storage infrastructure, helping to integrate renewable energy sources into the electricity grid.

The manufacturing expansion announced today is part of the Obama Administration's efforts to recapture domestic manufacturing capacity and supports the Energy Department's EV-Everywhere Challenge, a broader initiative to make electric vehicles more affordable and convenient to own and drive than today's gasoline-powered vehicles within the next 10 years.

The Rockwood Lithium project is part of a comprehensive investment under the Recovery Act to support advanced battery and electric drive manufacturing facilities around the country. At full scale, these factories will have an annual capacity to supply batteries and components to more than 500,000 electric-drive vehicles. Additionally, as part of the Energy Department's commitments to boosting U.S. critical materials production, the Department has also announced plans to invest up to $120 million over five years to launch a new Energy Innovation Hub, aimed at identifying problems and developing solutions across the lifecycle of critical materials. More information on critical materials in clean energy components, products and processes is available in the Department's 2011 Critical Materials Strategy.