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A groundbreaking ceremony was held Tuesday for the Westwater Resources’ subsidiary Alabama Graphite for the processing plant being built in the industrial park in Kellyton. Photo submitted
Local officials and others took part in the groundbreaking ceremony. Pictured from left are Coosa County Chamber of Commerce President Travis Milhan, Lake Martin Area Economic Development Alliance Executive Director Chad Odom, Dianne Perrett, Coosa County Extension Coordinator Sharon Haynes, and District 2 County Commissioner Bertha K. McElrath. Photo submitted
Gov. Kay Ivey, County Commission Chair Randall Dunham, County Commission Vice Chair Bertha K. McElrath, and Dianne Perrett join other officials and dignitaries in breaking ground at the Alabama Graphite plant to be built in Kellyton. Photo submitted
County commissioners Randall Dunham, Lamar Daugherty, Unzell Kelley, and Bertha K. McElrath are pictured with other representatives at the groundbreaking ceremony. Photo submitted
By Christa Jennings
Senior Staff Writer
Progress is gradually being made toward constructing the Alabama Graphite processing plant in Kellyton at the industrial park with a groundbreaking ceremony being held Tuesday morning.
Alabama Graphite Products LLC. is a subsidiary of Westwater Resources Inc., and they broke ground April 19 for the construction of the company’s graphite processing plant in Kellyton. Gov. Kay Ivey, U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, Alabama Rep. Ben Robbins, and many other state and local government officials, as well as business leaders and other representatives, joined Westwater for the ceremony.
While some county elected officials were present for the groundbreaking, including four-fifths of the County Commission, other local officials were uninvited and were not informed of the event, thus not attending.
Regarding some Coosa County officials not being included among the invitees, Lake Martin Area Economic Development Authority explained that Alabama Graphite’s public relations firm handled the invitations. While a full list of invitees was not readily available, those invited did include the LMAEDA Board members, state officials and city and county employees who worked directly on the project.
The $202 million plant is specifically being built in the Lake Martin Regional Industrial Park just off of U.S. Highway 280. It will process raw graphite into refined, battery-grade graphite for use in batteries that power electric vehicles (EVs), electronics and numerous other products.
Once it is completed, Phase I of the facility is expected to employ at least 100 people at an estimated average hourly wage in excess of $21 per hour, with the majority of employees reportedly being anticipated to come from Coosa County. Once fully operational it is expected to produce 7,500 metric tons of refined graphite per year.
“The construction of this plant is the result of a lot of work, cooperation, planning and vision by numerous people over a number of years,” said Chad Potter, president and CEO of Westwater Resources and Alabama Graphite Products. “I want to thank our incredible team, which envisioned and laid the foundation for what is the first graphite plant of its kind anywhere, as well as our state and local partners who made this day possible.”
Refined graphite is used as the anode in lithium-ion batteries that are found in EVs and other products, as well as a conductivity enhancer for all types of batteries, including the common lead-acid batteries in traditional vehicles.
The batteries found in an average EV need about 175-200 pounds of graphite. There are currently no producers of natural-grade graphite in the U.S. for these types of products, making the Coosa County plant the first of its kind.
Currently, the refined graphite used in lithium-ion and other batteries is primarily imported from China. As a result, the U.S. government has declared graphite a critical strategic mineral.
Gov. Ivey joined numerous state and local government officials and business leaders who took part in the groundbreaking celebration at the Kellyton site Tuesday morning. She said the plant will put Alabama at the top echelon in the production of an essential material for EVs and other batteries.
“Alabama, which is home to Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Hyundai, Toyota, and Mazda, is among the top four states in the nation in automobile production,” Ivey said. “This plant will make Alabama an even bigger player in the fast-growing electric vehicle sector. It also creates jobs and will serve as a catalyst for economic development in the region, which my administration has worked tirelessly over the years to bring to the state. As this new manufacturing facility demonstrates, the fruits of that labor are paying dividends for the people of Alabama.”
U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers praised Alabama Graphite Products for the jobs and economic development it is bringing to his district.
“Having the first graphite processing of its kind in Coosa County is a real honor, and I believe an indication of what’s to come,” Rogers said. “This project will spur more economic development in the region and more jobs for the people here.”
The plant is being built by Alabama Graphite Products LLC., a subsidiary of Westwater Resources. Westwater Resources is a Colorado-based company focused on developing battery-ready natural graphite materials for advanced batteries and states that it is committed to exploring and developing materials for clean and sustainable energy production.
The Kellyton plant will use a proprietary process to purify the feedstock and refine it into battery-grade graphite. This process is safer and more environmentally friendly and sustainable than the hydrofluoric acid-based process commonly used in China and elsewhere, which requires more water and produces more environment-damaging byproducts.
“Since our announcement in June of last year that we will build our state-of-the-art processing plant in Alabama, we have made significant investments in preparation for the operation of our plant,” CEO Potter said. “We have purchased and renovated two large existing buildings adjacent to the plant site – one for warehousing and logistical uses, the other for our laboratory and administrative offices. As our investment of millions of dollars and our commitment to invest even more indicate, we are firmly committed to Alabama and this community, and we look forward to being here for many years to come.”
In addition to the processing plant, the company plans to continue advanced exploration activities of a graphite deposit in western Coosa County, in the Weogufka area, in the Alabama Graphite Belt.
Westwater Resources acquired mineral rights to approximately 41,900 acres in 2018 and expects to begin mining operations by the end of 2028.
Until then, the Kellyton plant will import feed graphite acquired from high-quality sources. There is currently no commercial-level graphite mining in the nation.
Potter thanked the many state and local officials, agencies, industrial recruiters, associations, and businesses that helped make the project a reality.
“The cooperation and assistance we have received – from tax incentives to utilities to workforce development – has been incredible,” he stated. “We would not be here today without their support.”
In addition to Gov. Ivey and Rep. Rogers, other government officials at the groundbreaking included Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield, Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs Director Kenneth Boswell, State Sen. Clyde Chambliss, State representatives Ben Robbins and Ed Oliver, Coosa County commissioners, and Alexander City officials.
Also in attendance were representatives from the Lake Martin Area Economic Development Alliance, the Lake Martin Area Industrial Development Authority, the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition, the Alabama Mining Association, the Energy Institute of Alabama, Alabama Power Company, and project contractors: Fite Building Company, B.L. Harbert International, Asimpa, Samuel Engineering, and Bailey-Harris Construction Company.
The Kellyton processing plant is expected to begin operation by the end of the second quarter of 2023.
For more information about Alabama Graphite Products, visit their website at www.alabamagraphiteproducts.com.