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Knoxville Business News Tennessee Mountain Scenery Background
March 20, 2024 | Tom Ballard

Good news can come after a big manufacturer closes

That's the hope for Etowah as Tennessee Lithium is poised to replace Waupaca Foundry, the town's now closed largest employer.

“The growing demand for electric vehicles is driving the future of America’s energy security,” Tennessee Lithium declares on its website. “More electric vehicles on roadways means more lithium-ion batteries to power them. Today, China produces about 80 percent of the world’s battery-grade lithium, while the United States only produces approximately two percent of the global supply.” 

That’s about the change in the town of Etowah, TN which received an economic jolt of the bad kind when the large Waupaca Foundry closed its doors in the historic rail town nearly two years ago. After all, many of the 500 or so workers that were laid off had built lives and families in the town of 3,600 people. Now, the McMinn County community – the county seat is Athens – could be in for a revitalization after the shuttered iron foundry is poised to be replaced with a lithium mine.

Tennessee Lithium, a subsidiary of Piedmont Lithium, one of the largest lithium hydroxide mining firms in the country, is planning to open a facility in the area and hire around 120 people from the local community at between $50,000 and $60,000 per annum while investing tens of millions in the area. The company employs a pressure leaching process that uses steam, natural soda ash, and lime to mine lithium, which the company says gives it a more favorable environmental and safety profile than traditional methods.

Paying for it all is an $800 million loan from the Department of Energy’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing loan program, which has about $40 billion from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill to loan out at current treasury yield rates to companies looking to build light, medium, and heavy-duty vehicle manufacturing, as well as locomotive and light rail, aircraft, maritime vessels, and offshore wind support vessels.

Click here to read more about the plans in an article from Good News Network.


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