Westwater Resources (WWR) announce governor’s signing of incentives agreements that will bring first-of-its kind, advanced graphite processing plant to Alabama

June 22, 2021 11:01 AM EDT

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Officials of Westwater Resources, Inc. (NYSE American: WWR) joined Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey and other state and local leaders at a press conference in Montgomery today to announce the governor’s signing of incentives agreements that will bring a first-of-its kind, advanced graphite processing plant to the state, and put Alabama at the forefront in producing an essential material in the batteries that power electric vehicles, electronics and other green energy products and equipment.

The plant will be built in the Kellyton area in Coosa County, near Alexander City, by Alabama Graphite Products, LLC, a subsidiary of Alabama Graphite Corp. (“Alabama Graphite”) and its parent company, Westwater Resources, Inc. (“Westwater”). Westwater is a Colorado-based mineral resources company committed to exploring and developing materials for clean, sustainable energy production.

“This plant not only will make Alabama the U.S. leader in graphite production, the go-to place for this important resource in battery manufacturing, it also will elevate our standing even more as a major player in the fast-growing electric vehicle sector,” Ivey said. “We’re home to four major auto plants, and the ability to source precious materials in state for the lithium-ion batteries used in electric and hybrid vehicles will be a big plus in attracting other manufacturing jobs to the state.”

Graphite is used as the anode in lithium-ion batteries, as well as a conductivity enhancer for all types of batteries, including the common lead-acid batteries in traditional vehicles.

Gov. Ivey was joined at today’s press conference by Westwater President and CEO Chris Jones, Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield, state Sen. Clyde Chambliss, Alexander City Mayor Woody Baird, and representatives of the Coosa County Commission and the Lake Martin Area Economic Development Alliance, as well as members of the Alabama Graphite Products team.

“I want to thank Gov. Ivey, Secretary Canfield, other state leaders, and the many local officials in Alexander City and Coosa County who worked with us to make this vision come true,” Jones said. “The people of Alabama have been very welcoming since day one, and their cooperation has been integral in putting together the many pieces needed for us to build this innovative plant in Alabama. We look forward to being an active member of the business community here for many years to come.”

Alabama Graphite plans to make an initial investment of $80 million or more (with a second phase pushing the total to $124 million) in the graphite processing plant. Construction is expected to begin later this year, with the plant operating by the end of 2022. The plant is expected to employ at least 100 full-time, permanent workers. Those jobs will pay an estimated average hourly wage of $21.15.

The agreements signed by the governor will provide Alabama Graphite Products with jobs and tax credits under the Alabama Jobs Acts, totaling up to an estimated $29.9 million over 15 years. In addition, Alabama Industrial Development and Training (“AIDT”) will provide Alabama Graphite Products up to $925,000 in job-training and employee recruitment incentives.

Local incentives to be provided by the Lake Martin Area Economic Development Alliance, the Lake Martin Area Industrial Development Authority, Coosa County and Alexander City are estimated to total more than $4.7 million, and are to include abatement of 10 years of noneducational property taxes and the use of 80 acres in the Lake Martin Regional Industrial Park at no cost. In addition, a bridge will be built to provide additional access to the industrial park.

Water and wastewater treatment will be provided by Alexander City. In support of this effort, Alabama Graphite Products has entered into a public-private partnership to upgrade Alexander City’s wastewater treatment system with a contribution of $400,000 and prepayment of $100,000 in treatment fees.

“This is a great project for Alabama for many reasons,” said Commerce Secretary Canfield. “It perfectly complements our auto industry and what these automakers are doing with EVs here in Alabama. Mercedes and Hyundai have announced major expansion projects specifically for the manufacturing of electric vehicles. Plus, these are well-paying, sustainable jobs that will spur additional economic development and even more jobs in the area.”

Tallapoosa County Commissioner and Lake Martin Area Economic Development Alliance Chairman T.C. Coley Jr. said projects like this reinforce the Alliance's regional approach to economic development.

“Attracting an operation like this means a great deal to the region,” said Coley. “I can't praise enough the multi-jurisdictional effort led by our staff, Executive Director Chad Odom and Assistant Director Denise Walls. Their creativity, knowledge and use of local, state and federal resources made this possible. The mayor of Alexander City, the City Council, city staff and the Coosa County Commission also are to be commended for their efforts to overcome various infrastructure challenges and make investments that secure the region's economic future.”

In addition to making Alabama home to one of the first large-scale producers of refined graphite in the U.S., Alabama Graphite plans to mine raw graphite in western Coosa County in part of what was known as the “Alabama Graphite Belt.” Westwater Resources acquired mineral rights to approximately 42,000 graphite-deposit-rich acres in 2018 and expects to begin mining operations by 2028.

Westwater’s Jones noted that the U.S. government has declared graphite critical to the nation’s economy and national security.

“All of the graphite used and needed in the United States by the electric vehicle industry is imported,” he said. “Most of it is from China, where media have reported both worker and environmental issues. Domestic production of graphite reduces our dependence on foreign sources. Even though the raw graphite we will process into battery-grade material will be imported initially, none of it will be from China. We have secured agreements from other providers.”

Alabama Graphite will use a proprietary process to purify the raw graphite and refine it into battery grade purity. That process is safer and more environmentally friendly and sustainable than the hydrofluoric acid-based process commonly used in China and elsewhere, that requires more water and produces more environment-damaging byproducts.

“One of our core values is safety. We’re protective of our workers, the community and the environment,” Jones said. “Whether it’s mining or processing graphite, our company is committed to doing it in an environmentally safe, sustainable manner. The biggest virtue of electric vehicles and other battery-powered products is they reduce carbon emissions and are better for the environment. Producing the key materials for those batteries, we believe, can and should be done in an environmentally responsible way as well.”

Alabama Graphite’s processing plant will produce approximately 7,500 tons of battery-grade graphite a year initially, eventually expanding to 15,000 tons. The battery in an average EV needs about 175-200 pounds of graphite. Ford’s new electric F-150 truck, the Lightning, is expected to need roughly 450 pounds of graphite, Jones said.

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