CHARLOTTE – U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen visited a Bessemer City plant on Thursday to talk about how federal money targeting clean-energy initiatives has boosted manufacturing while helping make America less reliant on foreign countries for energy.
Yellen was accompanied by Gov. Roy Cooper on a tour of the Livent plant that processes lithium hydroxide, a key ingredient in electric vehicle batteries. She credited President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act with helping businesses like Livent grow in places that have been hit hard when legacy industries like textiles faded.
“Scaling up our domestic manufacturing capacity – particularly in new industries – can help create well-paying, middle-class jobs for Americans across the country. Serving people and places that have too often been left behind,” Yellen says while standing in front of hundreds of one ton bags of lithium hydroxide. Those lithium hydroxide bags are destined for Austin, Texas, where Tesla manufactures electric batteries for its vehicles and Japan, where Panasonic manufactures batteries for a wide assortment of uses, says Barbara Fochman, Livent’s chief operations and engineering officer at the plant.
Livent announced it was doubling its processing capacity in Bessemer City last November. The plant – which has a nearly 75-year history in the Gaston County town – can now process about 15,000 metric tons of lithium hydroxide a year – enough to provide batteries for approximately 250,000 electric vehicles, Fochman says. Livent planned its expansion before the Inflation Reduction Act passed in August 2022, but since its passage, Fochman says automakers have called stating they want their lithium hydroxide to come from the Bessemer City plant. Livent gets its lithium brine from Argentina.
“You come to work every day, not realizing until you have an event like this, how important your job is,” Fochman says. She has worked at the plant 25 years, and says Livent focuses on providing lithium so battery-makers don’t have to rely on its product from China. Last year’s expansion boosted the Philadelphia-based company’s workforce in Bessemer City from about 175 to 250, she says. Future expansions are already in the planning stages, she adds. The Livent plant is the country’s largest processor of lithium hydroxide.
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