A company in the electric vehicle supply chain proposing a huge new plant in Southeast Tennessee on Thursday said the investment has risen by about a third to $800 million.
The planned Piedmont Lithium plant in Etowah, Tennessee, also received its final permit required to begin construction on the facility in 2024, with production starting in 2026, according to the company.
The manufacturer, headquartered in North Carolina, will produce lithium hydroxide for use in automotive batteries. When announced last September, the project was put at $600 million, and even then it was one of the largest-ever single investments in Southeast Tennessee.
On Thursday, the company said the cost has gone to $800 million, noting it had engaged in more detailed engineering work and refined its operational plans.
Patrick Brindle, the company's chief operating officer, added that material costs have increased since it conducted a pre-feasibility study.
"However, as described by our recent definitive feasibility study, the economics for the project are robust, and we are pleased to be moving into the strategic partnership and financing phase now that we have the final material permit to advance to construction," he said in an email.
In May, a Piedmont Lithium official said at an electric vehicle event in Cleveland, Tennessee, that the company is on track for the 2026 startup to help in the production of 600,000 batteries annually.
"We like the proximity to the battery belt," Malissa Gordon, the company's vice president for government relations, said in an interview at the time. She cited the geographical name given to the array of companies locating in the region to supply automakers, including Volkswagen in Chattanooga.
Piedmont Lithium plans to create about 120 jobs at the manufacturing facility at the North Etowah Industrial Park in McMinn County, where the investment is believed to be its largest-ever single infusion by a company.
Piedmont announced Thursday the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation issued a conditional major non-Title V construction and air permit for the plant. The project, called Tennessee Lithium, is expected to produce 30,000 metric tons per year of lithium hydroxide.
Last October, the project was selected by the Department of Energy to receive a $141.7 million grant to support construction.
Keith Phillips, Piedmont's president and chief executive officer, said Thursday the company's team has focused on permitting, engineering and working with local officials.
"As demand for lithium hydroxide continues to soar in the U.S., this conversion facility will be key in the domestic effort to reduce reliance on foreign nations for lithium processing," he said in a statement.
The company said the funding process related to the grant continues to progress. Piedmont Lithium said its advisers are starting discussions with potential strategic partners for the balance of funding required for the project.
Also, the company plans to lease and renovate office space being developed with the goal of supporting revitalization efforts in downtown Etowah, the company said.
In addition, workforce development activities have begun with local technical schools to craft key training programs and curricula for certain posts. Hiring is expected to begin this year and continue through 2026 to support construction and prepare for production, according to the company.
In Chattanooga, Australian-based Novonix, the maker of synthetic graphite used in lithium-ion batteries, plans to eventually invest about $160 million and employ 300 workers at the former Alstom turbine-manufacturing plant on Riverfront Parkway.
A Novonix spokesperson said last week in an email that the company now has more than 100 employees at two Chattanooga locations.
Novonix also is looking at building another plant to produce 30,000 tons of synthetic graphite and employ 1,000 more workers. To aid that effort, Novonix won approval for $150 million in project funding from the Department of Energy.
In 2022, an official in Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly's administration said during a tour of the Riverfront Parkway plant that "we're fighting hard" for the second factory.
Last month, Volkswagen Group of America said it's giving up an option on a 182-acre vacant tract near its Chattanooga production plant at Enterprise South industrial park, and an official said plans are to market the land potentially to a company involved in the electric vehicle space.
"We're actively kind of marketing that," Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Charles Wood said in an interview. "Ideally it aligns with what VW is doing over time in the EV sector and that sort of thing."