NV lithium extraction and battery manufacturing facilities get $107M federal boost

By: - October 21, 2022 11:14 am

President Joe Biden and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm announcing federal grants for domestic battery manufacturing. (White House video screengrab)

New battery manufacturing facilities are coming to Nevada and will receive more than $100 million dollars of federal funding, a move meant to fulfill the Biden Administration’s commitment to ensure that half of all new vehicle sales by 2030 are electric and to transition to a net-zero emissions economy by 2050.

Two Nevada companies specializing in mineral processing and extraction were awarded the funds as part of $2.8 billion in grants distributed by the U.S. Department of Energy. A total of 20 manufacturing and processing companies were funded across 12 states. 

One company, the American Battery Technology Company, plans to use the funding to construct a large-scale facility in Tonopah that would demonstrate a novel process for manufacturing battery grade lithium from unconventional landscapes. The company said the facility will show that their technique has a “low-cost and low-environmental impact process for manufacturing lithium products.”

The second company that will receive funding is a project in Fernley by Lilac Solutions, which plans to demonstrate a new extraction technique that could make it more commercially viable to pull lithium from domestic underground deposits of brine water and ore.

Most domestic brine sites contain lithium at concentrations too low, and impurities at concentrations too high, to make extraction commercially viable. Lilac claims their project will “demonstrate economical and environmentally friendly lithium extraction from domestic lithium.”

The two projects would “support 300 new, good-paying jobs in Nevada and further boost the area’s growing economy,” according to Nevada Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s office. 

“Nevada’s clean-energy economy is booming, and I made sure the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law included funding to create even more good-paying jobs in this industry,” said Cortez Masto, who wrote letters of support for both companies. “Nevada is leading the way in domestic battery manufacturing and recycling, and we’re perfectly positioned to turn these investments into lasting economic growth, and expand our global competitiveness.”

On Wednesday, President Joe Biden announced the grants along with his American Battery Materials Initiative, an effort meant to mobilize the U.S. government to secure a domestic supply of critical minerals for batteries used in electric vehicles and electrification.

During a video presentation of the announcement, Biden said he believes these actions will improve the nation’s energy independence, strengthen national security, and support “good-paying jobs” across the battery supply chain. 

Electric vehicle sales have tripled since Biden took office, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Before Biden took office, about 2% of vehicles sold in the U.S. were electric. Today, more than 8% of vehicles sold in the country are electric. The department also said investments in battery manufacturing have more than doubled compared to 2021 and are more than six times higher than in 2020.

The Biden administration said the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the CHIPS & Science Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act, combined, will invest more than $135 billion to increase critical minerals sourcing and processing and battery manufacturing. 

“Producing advanced batteries and components here at home will accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels to meet the strong demand for electric vehicles, creating more good-paying jobs across the country,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm in the presentation.

Members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, including Cortez Masto, have stressed that more domestic production of lithium, nickel, cobalt and rare earth minerals would be needed to increase use of electric vehicles

Biden’s goal of making half of all U.S. vehicles electric by 2030, is unlikely if the nation fails to produce the minerals needed for those vehicles’ batteries, say senators of both parties.

The U.S. only produces about 9% of the world’s battery cells, David Howell, a director with the U.S. Energy Department’s Vehicle Technologies Office, told a Senate panel in April. A June 2021 White House report said domestic battery manufacturing is “dependent on foreign sources for battery materials and precursors.”

Nevada is home to the only active lithium production facility in North America and has notable lithium deposits, with several proposed projects currently under review by the U.S. Department of the Interior. 

But those projects have attracted numerous lawsuits in Nevada from tribes fighting to protect sacred sites and conservationists protecting rare species, highlighting the tension between developers, conservation groups, and rural communities.

In February, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed a rule to protect nearly a thousand acres of critical habitat for a rare Nevada flower under threat by a proposed lithium mine on its only known habitat, complicating the mine’s future development.

Another proposed lithium mine near the Oregon-Nevada border in an area known as Thacker Pass has faced several lawsuits to halt construction and several Nevada-based tribes say the mine would desecrate a Paiute massacre site in the area.

Conservationists have also strongly opposed the Thacker Pass lithium mine, which they believe could lead to failures that could unleash toxic slurry into the state’s watershed. Other conservation groups say the planned lithium mine would decimate a tiny rare Nevada springsnail whose only known habitat consists of 13 small isolated springs around Thacker Pass in Humboldt County.

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Jeniffer Solis
Jeniffer Solis

Jeniffer was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada where she attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas before graduating in 2017 with a B.A in Journalism and Media Studies.