Westwater Resources and its subsidiary, Alabama Graphite Products LLC, launched construction of a first-of-its-kind graphite processing plant in Coosa County that will produce an essential material for electric vehicle batteries.
The $202 million plant, which is being built in the Lake Martin Regional Industrial Park just off U.S. 280 in Coosa County, will process raw graphite into refined, battery-grade graphite for use in batteries that power EVs, electronics and many other products.
Once completed, Phase I of the facility near Alexander City is expected to employ at least 100 people at an estimated average hourly wage in excess of $21 and when fully operational is expected to produce 7,500 metric tons of refined graphite every year.
“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,” said Chad Potter, President and CEO of Westwater Resources and Alabama Graphite Products.
Governor Kay Ivey joined numerous state and local government officials and business leaders who took part in the groundbreaking celebration at the Kellyton site this morning.
She said the plant will put Alabama at the top echelon in the production of 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,” Governor Ivey said. “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.
“As this new manufacturing facility demonstrates, the fruits of that labor are paying dividends for the people of Alabama,” she added.
The Kellyton processing plant is expected to begin operation by the end of the second quarter of 2023.
The Alabama project is important because the refined graphite used in lithium-ion and other batteries is imported from China. That prompted the U.S. government to declare graphite a critical strategic mineral.
Colorado-based Westwater Resources said the batteries found in an average EV need about 175 to 200 pounds of graphite. There are currently no producers of natural-grade graphite in the U.S. for these types of products.
CEO Potter said the 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. The project was announced in June 2021.
“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,” Potter said.
“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.”
In addition to the processing plant, the company plans to explore a graphite deposit in western Coosa County in the Alabama Graphite Belt. Westwater Resources acquired mineral rights to approximately 41,900 acres in 2018 and expects to begin mining operations by the end of 2028.
Until then, Westwater Resources said the Kellyton plant will import feed graphite acquired from high-quality sources. There is currently no commercial-level graphite mining in the U.S.
“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.”
U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers welcomed the graphite processing plant project as a boon to irural Coosa County.
“This project will spur more economic development in the region and more jobs for the people here,” he said.