Ioneer, a lithium business, announced on Friday (January 13, 2023) that it has obtained a conditional commitment from the Department of Energy for a loan of up to $700 million as the country works to create new supply chains for components essential to the energy transition.
In Esmeralda County, Nevada, Ioneer is developing the Rhyolite Ridge Lithium-Boron Project. According to the corporation, the plant will produce boron and enough lithium when fully operational for 400,000 electric vehicles.
Ford and Toyota have already signed offtake agreements with Ioneer, despite the plant not yet being in operation. According to some experts, there simply won’t be enough lithium to fulfill the surge in demand brought on by electric vehicles, thus manufacturers are increasingly negotiating supply contracts with upstream firms.
Rhyolite Ridge is a joint venture with miner Sibanye-Stillwater, which owns 50% of the project after investing $490 million in September 2021.
For new lithium mines, a lengthy permitting procedure is required. The DOE’s loan to Ioneer is subject to a number of requirements, including that the business obtain all required permissions. In December, the company declared that the federal permitting procedure was nearing its conclusion. The initiative is opposed by the Center for Biological Diversity, which claims that a rare wildflower is at risk because of it.
If approved, the loan, made under the DOE’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program, will be for Ioneer’s on-site lithium processing facility.
Esmeralda County is also home to Albemarle’s Silver Peak facility, which is currently the only operating lithium plant in the U.S.
The U.S. has a lot of lithium, but getting it out of the ground is expensive, and new projects often face opposition over environmental concerns.
Still, Friday’s announcement is the latest in a string of lithium companies announcing new or expanded U.S. plants on the heels of the Inflation Reduction Act. The legislation supports lithium manufacturers while also connecting the incentives for EV tax refunds to the location of the battery manufacturer.
Albemarle is in the process of reopening its Kings Mountain mine in North Carolina, while also doubling the output at its Silver Peak facility.
Piedmont Lithium unveiled plans for a new lithium refining plant in Tennessee in September, and Lithium Americas is in the process of developing its Thacker Pass mine in Nevada. The project has been delayed by years of permitting hurdles.