The U.S. has made a $250 billion bet that it can build a world-class battery industry, and puncture China's domination of the technology. But to get there, the country must reverse decades-old local opposition in the country to mining and heavy industry. This week, we look at Piedmont Lithium, a poster child for how not to win over local residents.
The Electric will not publish next Sunday. We will pick up on Jan. 2 with The Electric Quarterly, wrapping up 2022 and looking ahead into the new year.
The U.S. has one small commercial-scale lithium mine, one nickel mine and one rare earth mineral operation. Even if the country had more such mines, it lacks much of the capacity to refine the ore into the high-grade powders and chemicals required for electric vehicle batteries and motors, technology dominated by China.
But the Biden administration is up against a hard truth as it attempts to deploy a $250 billion war chest aimed in large part at developing such mines and processing capacity. For decades, people across the country, whether they lean red or blue, have opposed mines or heavy industrial facilities near their homes, and often not even that near. Today, polls show that Americans widely support renewable energy, but often oppose the arguably dirty lithium, nickel and other mines and processing plants required to make EVs and batteries work.
The conflict is playing out dramatically in Cherryville, N.C., about 35 miles west of Charlotte, where Piedmont Lithium proposes to build an $840 million lithium mine. Piedmont has riled up Gaston County officials and citizens by lining up investors, customers and other outside support before telling locals about its plans. Residents around Cherryville have objected to being taken for granted, and the current bet is that the project is on life support.