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Albemarle plans $200M lithium research center in Charlotte

An office building
Albemarle Corp.
Corporate Communications
Albemarle Corp.'s headquarters is in the Southpark area of Charlotte. It plans a $200 million research center in northeast Charlotte.

Charlotte-based chemicals supplier Albemarle Corp. plans a $200 million lithium research center in Charlotte's University City area. The company says the center will create 200 jobs and support the fast-growing market for lithium and electric vehicle batteries.

State and local officials offered Albemarle about $12.7 million in grants and tax incentives for the project. On Tuesday, the state's Economic Investment Committee approved a Job Development Investment Grant of up to $1.24 million over 12 years if the company meets its hiring target.

The city of Charlotte offered $7.24 million in tax rebates over 12 years. Mecklenburg County offered $4.2 million over seven years. Both are contingent on Albemarle completing its investment and creating the promised jobs.

The company lists the site for the new building as 6800 Solectron Drive in the research park, off W.T. Harris Boulevard.

The Charlotte region is emerging as a hot spot for lithium, with large deposits and the possibility for mining the mineral to meet the world's ever-growing appetite for better batteries. Albemarle already operates a lithium processing plant in Kings Mountain, and it's making plans to reopen an old lithium mine there, too. Meanwhile, a company called Piedmont Lithium wants to build a new lithium mine and processing operation on 1,500 acres in northern Gaston County, about 30 miles west of Charlotte.

Albemarle is a publicly-traded global company that mines and processes minerals and develops specialty chemicals for industries including energy, electronics, transportation, construction, pharmaceuticals and agriculture. It says the new center will carry out advanced materials research and develop process improvements and other innovations for the lithium and battery markets.

Albemarle CEO Kent Masters welcomed the state and local incentives and said the planned Albemarle Technology Park "is an important piece of our journey to develop advanced energy storage technologies that power our future."

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The company has promised jobs at varied salary levels, averaging about $94,000 a year. Mecklenburg County's average annual pay is $75,907, according to the state Department of Commerce.

“Albemarle’s cutting edge work will help bring the next generation of clean energy technology to life and create great jobs in North Carolina’s clean energy economy,” Gov. Roy Cooper said in a press release.

Lithium accounts for about 60% of Albemarle's global sales. Besides its headquarters in Charlotte, Albemarle has a lithium production facility in Kings Mountain, and lithium mining and processing operations in South America and Asia. It also has chemical and catalyst plants around the U.S. and the world.

The company has said it wants to keep growing its capacity for lithium as the market expands. Albemarle's shares are up 10% this year.

Albemarle relocated its headquarters to Charlotte in 2015.

Mecklenburg County Commission chairman George Dunlap said in a statement that the research center "will be critical for the evolving electric vehicle industry sector, and for furthering our region’s presence as an emerging leader in the EV and battery space."

David Boraks previously covered climate change and the environment for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.