Battery material producer investing $160 million in Chattanooga's former Alstom plant, creating 300 jobs

Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / The former Alstom manufacturing site off West 19th Street was photographed on April 11, 2020.

A company that develops and commercializes material for the lithium-ion battery market will create nearly 300 jobs in Chattanooga as the business taps into the growing electric vehicle sector.

Novonix, the Nova Scotia, Canada-based company that opened a facility in Lookout Valley in 2019, is expected to invest about $160 million as it purchases and retrofits a building at the former Alstom plant off Riverfront Parkway, officials said Tuesday.

The planned 400,000-square-foot plant in Alstom's former turbomachinery factory, often called "Big Blue," eventually will produce up to 8,000 tons per year of synthetic graphite, according to Novonix.

That product is used in making ultra-long-life, high-performance anode material for lithium-ion batteries, specifically for electric vehicles and similar storage applications, officials said.

"I think it will be an awesome addition to the Alstom facility," said Charles Wood, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's vice president for economic development. "This is manufacturing in a sector that has a long growth curve out ahead of it."

Novonix established its anode materials business, PUREgraphite, in March 2017. Its Lookout Valley plant, where it's leasing space, employs about 35 people.

Chris Burns, Novonix's chief executive, said company officials look forward to growing the business in the expanding Southeast hub of electric vehicle battery manufacturing.

He said the company "will help establish the domestic supply chain of key materials for the lithium-ion battery sector."

Novonix is ramping up to produce 2,000 tons per year of synthetic graphite, according to the company. That will include supply of an initial 500 tons to Samsung SDI, one of the world's largest lithium-ion battery makers for EVs, the company said.

Novonix also has a non-binding agreement with Sanyo, another leading battery producer, to assess production materials from this plant, according to the company.

Wood said Novonix has not yet closed on the purchase of the former Alstom property.

He said the Chattanooga City Council and Hamilton County Commission are expected to review proposed incentives for the Novonix project, including possible property tax breaks. The state is expected to supply incentives as well.

Chattanooga businessman Jimmy White purchased the former 112-acre Alstom property along with local hotel developer Hiren Desai for $30 million in 2018.

White said his Urban Story Ventures group had been waiting for a company such as Novonix. White has said the proposed redevelopment of the Alstom property, which the owners have branded as The Bend, could bring $2 billion to $3 billion in investments, add more than $11 million in tax revenue annually for Chattanooga and Hamilton County and spur more than 5,000 jobs.

"It's exciting to have an industry like that in Chattanooga. Their 290 jobs are a tremendous addition to the over 500 jobs we have already announced on The Bend and the continued economic impact of the site," he said, citing a partnership with the city, county and state.

Use of the former Alstom property for manufacturing goes back more than a century as a location for making pressure vessels, tanks, fire tube and water tube boilers.

In 2007, Alstom announced plans for a new $300 million Chattanooga plant and built the turbine manufacturing facility.

But in 2015, GE bought France-based Alstom's power operations and later announced it was closing the turbine manufacturing plant and two adjacent facilities, cutting nearly 235 jobs in Chattanooga.

About 35 years ago, the entire manufacturing site, then owned by Combustion Engineering, had nearly 6,000 workers and was Chattanooga's largest employer, making fossil fuel and nuclear steam generating equipment.

Wood said Novonix was first attracted to Chattanooga by a former startup company in Hamilton County's Small Business Development Center called Coulometrics, which is involved in battery and energy storage research and development.

Volkswagen's Chattanooga plant is undergoing an $800 million expansion to build an electric SUV next year. The battery-powered ID.4 is the first global EV produced by Volkswagen. It is now produced in Germany and imported to the U.S. until assembly starts in 2022 in Chattanooga.

Contact Mike Pare at Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.