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Albemarle and Caterpillar agree to supply one another — lithium for electric mining equipment

Albemarle Corp. plans to reopen this former lithium mine in Kings Mountain.
Albemarle Corp.
Albemarle Corp. plans to reopen this former lithium mine in Kings Mountain.

Charlotte-based Albemarle Corp. is taking steps to make its planned lithium mine in Kings Mountain climate-friendly.

Under an agreement signed Wednesday, Albemarle will buy battery-powered mining equipment from heavy vehicle maker Caterpillar. In return, Albemarle will become the main supplier of lithium to Caterpillar for electric vehicle batteries.

The companies also agreed to collaborate on research into battery technology and battery recycling.

Albemarle says it wants to make the Kings Mountain mine the first zero-emissions lithium mine in North America in the next decade. It still needs permits and approvals for the operation, which is on the same site as a plant that currently processes lithium from Albemarle's other mines, including one at Silver Peak, Nevada.

The Biden administration is pushing to expand U.S. production of electric vehicles, batteries and critical minerals like lithium.

"It’s a win-win-win scenario, in which we are both customers and suppliers of each other," said Eric Norris, president of energy storage at Albemarle. "Beyond supplying infrastructure and materials, battery-powered Caterpillar machinery and potential improvements to cell technology will open up new possibilities for the future of sustainable mining."

Albemarle recently announced a $90 million grantfrom the U.S. Department of Defense to help reopen the Kings Mountain mine. The former open-pit mine, off Interstate 85 about 35 miles west of Charlotte, is currently filled with water. It operated from the 1940s until the 1980s, but shut down when cheaper lithium sources became available in South America.

Albemarle's headquarters is in Charlotte's SouthPark area. It's also planning a $200 million lithium research centerin Charlotte's University City area.

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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.