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With Gaston mine approvals slow, Piedmont Lithium lines up foreign supplies

Workers drilled test holes in 2019 at the site of Piedmont Lithium's proposed 3,000-acre mining and processing operation in northern Gaston County.
David Boraks
Workers drilled test holes in 2019 at the site of Piedmont Lithium's proposed mining and processing operation in northern Gaston County.

Piedmont Lithium will begin mining next year, but not at its controversial proposed mine in northern Gaston County. Instead, the company has lined up mines outside the country.

Piedmont has contracts to supply lithium to Tesla and other makers of electric vehicle batteries. It had hoped to begin deliveries this year, but state and local approvals have been slow in coming.

So the company now says it will get its first lithium shipments from mines in Quebec, Canada, and Ghana, in West Africa. Piedmont says production is expected to begin in Quebec in the first half of 2023 and in Ghana in 2024.

It's also planning a second U.S. processing plant at a yet-to-be-announced location.

In a statement, CEO Keith Phillips said the company remains committed to the Gaston County project.

"Building out the Carolina Lithium Project as a world-class integrated lithium hydroxide operation takes time to do the right way," Phillips said. "We are committed to operating the world’s most sustainable lithium hydroxide processing operation here in Gaston County, NC, and to being a respectful and conscientious steward of our environment and the communities in which we operate."

"As we work through the permitting and rezoning process for the Carolina Lithium Project, our goal is to be fully permitted and rezoned in 2023 with construction underway in 2024 and production commencing in late 2025 or early 2026," Phillips said.

Neighbors and environmental activists have opposed the Gaston project. It still needs both a state mining permit and local zoning approval.

"We are continuing to work steadily and collaboratively through the planning process with regulators, Gaston County, and residents, as well as local education partners, community organizations and businesses. We are confident that there will be a positive outcome for all parties in due time," Phillips said.

Piedmont has until mid-July to answer questions from state mining regulators and no date has been set for a vote on the application.

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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.