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Gaston Lithium Mine Gets Key Permits, Plans Kings Mountain Processing Plant

Workers pull core samples out of the drill.
David Boraks
Workers pull core samples out of a drill last spring as part of Piedmont Lithium's testing in Gaston County.

A company hoping to mine lithium in northern Gaston County has received key state and federal permits for the project and plans to speed up development of a processing plant in Kings Mountain. But it's pushing back the mine's projected opening by a year.

Map shows the area of Lithium deposits in Gaston County (green), as well as areas Piedmont Lithium is considering for a mine that would open in 2023.
Credit Piedmont Lithium
Map shows the area of Lithium deposits in Gaston County (green), as well as areas Piedmont Lithium is considering for a mine that would open in 2023.

Lithium deposits are rich in Gaston County. From the 1940s to the 1980s, local mines supplied most of the world's lithium - for medicines and industrial lubricants. The industry moved away when cheaper deposits were found elsewhere. But there's new interest because of rising demand for lithium batteries, especially for electric vehicles.  

Piedmont Lithium recently got Clean Water Act permits from both the federal Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Environmental Quality for its planned mine on about 2,400 acres north of Bessemer City. 

“That was an important milestone for us. Something we've been working on for a couple of years,” Piedmont Lithium CEO Keith Phillips said this week. 


Piedmont Lithium CEO Keith Phillips
Piedmont Lithium CEO Keith Phillips

The company had planned to develop the mine in two stages - initially sending ore to processors elsewhere, then later building its own chemical plant. But the company now says it will build the mine and the plant in a single project, says Phillips.

“We've been urged by prospective customers like car companies, battery companies, cathode companies to accelerate our chemical plant,” he said.

That change would move up construction by a year, he said. But the added planning and approvals also mean the mine's opening will be delayed a year. Phillips said they now expect full production to begin in 2023.  


But there are other hurdles before then, including air quality permits for the chemical plant, and Gaston County approval to rezone the land to industrial use, from residential or agricultural.

Phillips said the company won't file a rezoning application until next year. 

"We're confident we'll get that approval," Phillips said. "That'll be a quite public process, which is good. We've had fantastic support from our neighbors to date, and we expect that to continue through the 2020 period."  

Dozens of residents in the area have signed agreements with the company to allow drilling and sell their land. But some others have raised concerns about environmental damage, mine blasting, and effects on their property values. 

Piedmont Lithium has spent about $25 million on planning over the past two years. That includes drilling test holes on about 2,400 acres of residential and agricultural land that the company owns or has options on. Those tests paint a picture of a resource that could take 25 years to mine, Phillips said.  

The company also will have to present plans for how it will clean up the site when mining stops. Another now-closed mine nearby remains an open pit surrounded by fences. It closed before laws required reclamation plans.  

Phillips said that's something the company will be working on in 2020.  "There's some great examples of mining projects that have operated for decades and are now remediated and turned into all sorts of different public uses, which can be very attractive," he said.


Nov. 25, 2019, Piedmont Lithium announcement, "Piedmont Lithium Receives Federal Permit To Develop Mine"

Dec. 3, 2019, Piedmont announcement of Kings Mountain plant, "Hatch Appointed To Deliver PFS For Piedmont's Lithium Hydroxide Project In North Carolina"  

David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.