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Staff file photo / Novonix, a maker of synthetic graphite used in electric vehicle batteries, plans to relocate to this former Alstom factory off Riverfront Parkway in Chattanooga.

Hamilton County is seeking $3 million in state funds to help a maker of materials for electric vehicle batteries to buy property and make building improvements for a planned $160 million facility.

The panel is applying for a state fast-track grant for PUREgraphite, a subsidiary of Canada-based Novonix. The company plans to buy and manufacture synthetic graphite at a 400,000-square-foot former Alstom factory on Riverfront Parkway and create about 300 jobs.

Hamilton County Commissioner Tim Boyd said the jobs will be highly skilled posts "that demand good pay and the payroll filters down throughout out the community."

"This is a game-changer for Hamilton County," he said this week after the commission agreed to apply for the state funds. The commissioner said the grant was part of the incentive package to attract the company.

Boyd said the battery production market is too dependent on China where much of the world's synthetic graphite is now produced.

The new plant will "break that chain of dependency," he said.

Commissioner Warren Mackey said he was told that 90% of synthetic graphite for lithium-ion batteries is made in China.

"When Hamilton County has a company that's going to compete, it was said that it was a national security issue," he said.

Jennifer McEachern, the state Department of Economic and Community Development's director of communications and marketing, said the $3 million is currently the only grant earmarked by the state for the Novonix/PUREgraphite project.

Novonix' synthetic graphite 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.

Chattanooga and Hamilton County already have approved a Payment in Lieu of Tax (PILOT) agreement with Novonix and PUREgraphite. A property tax break would range from zero to 50% over 10 years. The company would pay all of the county school taxes.

The company has the option to decide when it wants to start the property tax incentives within five years, the agreement said.

Daniel Deas, chief operating officer of PUREgraphite, said he expected the company will be on the Riverfront Parkway site this year with work picking up in mid-2022 and up to capacity by mid-2023.

The company opened a small plant in Lookout Valley in 2019 that employs about 35 people. The company is operating in just 20,000 square feet now but is already making synthetic graphite though in much smaller quantities than planned.

Deas said the company is looking at another facility in the area that could produce 30,000 tons per year of synthetic graphite and employ 1,000 workers.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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