Gov. Kay Ivey gave remarks and participated in a groundbreaking ceremony for Westwater Resources / Alabama Graphite April 18, 2022, in Kellyton, Ala. (Governor’s Office/Hal Yeager photo)
Westwater Resources and its subsidiary, Alabama Graphite Products LLC, officially launched construction April 19 of a first-of-its-kind graphite processing plant in Coosa County designed to produce an essential material for electric vehicle (EV) batteries.
The $202 million plant, which is being built in the Lake Martin Regional Industrial Park just off U.S. Highway 280, will process raw graphite into refined, battery-grade graphite for use in batteries that power EVs, electronics and other products.
Once completed, Phase I of the facility near Alexander City is expected to employ at least 100 people at an estimated average wage of more than $21 an hour.
When fully operational, the factory will produce 7,500 metric tons of refined graphite every year, according to Made in Alabama, the news site for the state's Department of Commerce.
"The construction of this plant is the result of a lot of work, cooperation, planning, and vision by numerous people over a number of years," explained Chad Potter, president and CEO of Westwater Resources and Alabama Graphite Products.
Gov. Kay Ivey joined state and local government officials, as well as business leaders, at the groundbreaking event. She said the plant will put Alabama among the top echelon of worldwide locales that make a key material for EVs and other batteries.
"Alabama, which is home to Mercedes, Honda, Hyundai, Toyota and Mazda, is among the top four states in the nation in automobile production," Ivey remarked. "This plant will make Alabama an even bigger player in the fast-growing electric vehicle sector. It also creates jobs and will serve as a catalyst for economic development in the region, which my administration has worked tirelessly over the years to bring to the state."
The processing plant, located in the community of Kellyton, is expected to begin operation by the end of the second quarter of 2023.
A Leading-Edge Project
The Alabama processing plant, first announced in June 2021, is important because the refined graphite used in lithium-ion and other batteries is imported from China, a fact that has prompted the U.S. government to declare graphite a critical strategic mineral.
Colorado-based Westwater Resources told Made in Alabama that the batteries found in an average EV need about 175 to 200 pounds of graphite; however, there are currently no producers of natural-grade graphite in the United States.
Potter noted that his company has already made significant investments to prepare for the Alabama plant's operation, which will use a process that is safer and more environmentally friendly than the methods currently used in China.
"We have purchased and renovated two large existing buildings adjacent to the plant site; one for warehousing and logistical uses, the other for our laboratory and administrative offices," he said, adding, "As our investment in millions of dollars and commitment to invest even more indicates, we are firmly committed to Alabama and this community, and we look forward to being here for many years to come."
As an example, Westwater Resources plans to explore a graphite deposit in western Coosa County, in the heart of Alabama's graphite belt. The company bought mineral rights to approximately 41,900 acres in 2018 and hopes to begin mining operations by the end of 2028.
Made in Alabama reported that, currently, there are no commercial-level graphite mines in the United States.
Until Westwater Resources begins its own mining, the company said the Kellyton plant will import feed graphite acquired from high-quality sources abroad.
"This is a great project for Alabama because it really complements our auto industry and what these global automakers are preparing to do with EV production at their Alabama facilities," said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. "I'm looking forward to seeing this project come to fruition and make an impact on the evolving auto industry."
Congressman Mike Rogers, representing the state's 3rd District, welcomed the graphite processing plant project, describing it as a windfall to rural Coosa County.
"This project will spur more economic development in the region and more jobs for the people here," he said.
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