FMC Lithium expanding in Gaston

Story by: Steve Byers, Charlotte Observer

 

Manufacturer FMC Lithium is making a $50 million investment in Gaston County.

The company, which makes the material necessary to power advanced lithium batteries, said Friday it is expanding its sprawling Bessemer City plant over the next three years. That expansion includes the addition of 20 to 25 jobs at the 215-employee plant. Also, FMC officially launched a new lithium metal purification process designed for high-technology energy storage applications.

U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., was on hand for Friday’s announcement and toured part of the 900-acre plant. She hailed the investment in “clean-energy technologies.”

“Clean energy bolsters our national security and reduces our dependence on foreign oil,” Hagan said at a news conference. “It protects our environment and, what’s most important to me, it creates jobs in North Carolina. And these jobs are not going to be shipped overseas.”

Hagan noted that North Carolina currently accounts for 75 percent of the nation’s lithium production. She quipped that her four favorite words are “made in North Carolina.”

But she cautioned that China is making strides in the clean-energy field and is outpacing the U.S. in terms of private investment in technology.

Earlier this year, Hagan introduced a bill to provide $40 million in Department of Energy grants for research and development of next-generation lithium products. The legislation would encourage companies to conduct R&D to bring advanced battery production to the U.S.

FMC Lithium is a division of Philadelphia-based FMC Corp., a diversified chemical company with 2010 revenues of $3.1 billion and 5,000 employees worldwide.

Jon Evans, Lithium Division general manager, said the new purification process will set the Bessemer City plant apart with its emphasis on sustainability. And he said the company is planning further investments to increase capacity and capabilities in its lithium metal and lithium hydroxide products.

He said FMC used to do the purification process partially in Asia, “but I’m proud to say we brought it back to the U.S., where we can do it better and cheaper.” That elicited a “good!” from Hagan standing nearby.

The lithium storage industry is growing by 11 percent to 12 percent a year, Evans said, and FMC sees that pace continuing for the next decade. The Bessemer City plant makes lithium used in products ranging from rechargeable batteries to pacemakers and military radios, satellites and drones.

Asked about a salary range for the new employees, he said it would vary widely but called it “very competitive for Gaston County and the Charlotte area. These are highly skilled, good-paying jobs.”
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