Piedmont Lithium (ASX:PLL,NASDAQ:PLL) CEO Keith Phillips joined the Investing News Network at the 2020 Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) conference to discuss his company’s progress developing the Piedmont lithium project in North Carolina, a region that once accounted for a significant amount of US lithium production.
The Piedmont lithium project primarily hosts spodumene mineralization, which enables the low-cost production of lithium hydroxide, a product favored in the creation of high-range electric vehicle batteries. According to Phillips, lithium hydroxide is required to balance out the extra amount of nickel common in long-range battery chemistries.
“There are many different cathode chemistries. You might have heard the acronyms NMC, NCA, LFP, etc. They all use different blends. They all use a relatively similar amount of lithium, say 10 percent of the cathode material. They use a blend of nickel, manganese, cobalt, iron, aluminum and other elements. When people are making the cathode and making the battery, they’re trying to optimize a lot of different things including range, energy density, cost and stability,” Phillips said. “If you want a longer range car, you need to use more nickel in the cathode.”
The Piedmont lithium project is the only project in the United States focused on spodumene production for the American electric vehicle market. As the automobile industry continues to transition towards electric vehicles and sustainable sources of energy, additional sources of lithium could be necessary to serve the growing marketplace. According to Phillips, the world’s current battery supply chain relies heavily on China, which can cause inefficiencies for American manufacturers. “China produces probably two-thirds of the cathode materials and batteries and about 25 percent of the cars. If you’re a German or American car company looking to produce cars in the United States or Europe, you have to rely on China.”
“For American car producers, if they can get lithium from North Carolina right in the heart of auto alley, that could have a massive impact on their supply chain for the better from a sustainability perspective. In the future, the transport distances from our lithium projects in North Carolina to a car plant in South Carolina, Alabama or Tennessee will be no more than hundreds of miles,” Phillips said. “People want diversification, people want sources of supply from different parts of the world in different countries. Ideally, they want them close by. Big car companies want their windshields and their windshield wipers to come from around the corner, not from across the globe. When it comes to supply chain disruptions, it could be a virus, it could be tariffs, it could be a storm or it could be anything else.”
Phillips and the team at Piedmont Lithium are currently working to develop and permit the Piedmont Lithium project in North Carolina. The company recently announced it would be working with Hatch to release its pre-feasibility study in the coming year. “Hatch is great, they’re a leader in the mining industry in general and they’re certainly a leader in lithium chemical plants. We enjoy working with them,” Phillips said.
“Over the course of this year, we want to release the hydroxide metallurgical test work we’re doing now at SGS Lakefield up here in Ontario. That will be completed in the next several weeks and announced hopefully by the end of March. We will announce a pre-feasibility study for our chemical plant by the end of April. So we’re going to have a mining concentrate plant to produce a spodumene concentrate and a chemical plant to produce lithium hydroxide.”
Hatch’s involvement in the Piedmont lithium project is reflective of the company’s dedication to sustainability, which is becoming an increasingly important factor for institutional investors, according to Phillips. “We hear about sustainability now every day. When we’re speaking to potential customers, car companies, battery companies, they care about how we design our project,” Phillips said. “Sustainability is also key to investors. Everywhere I go institutional investors ask these questions — they’re focused on it. They score companies based on sustainability, and if you don’t measure up, they won’t buy your stock whether they like it or not. So it’s really important to be focused on it.”
For a more comprehensive update from Piedmont Lithium CEO Keith Phillips, watch the video above.
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