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S&P Podcast: Piedmont aims to be North America's top lithium hydroxide source

Piedmont Lithium Inc. wants to be the largest North American source of lithium hydroxide, a key component in making electric vehicle batteries, company President and CEO Keith Phillips told S&P Global Market Intelligence's "Energy Evolution" podcast.

The North Carolina-headquartered company is looking to build out operations from deposits of lithium-rich spodumene in North Carolina, Quebec and Ghana. Phillips said investor interest is increasing and capital is flowing into electric vehicle-related businesses, but it is only the "first or second inning" when it comes to investing in a U.S.-based electric vehicle supply chain.

SNL Image

Keith Phillips, president and CEO of Piedmont Lithium.
Source: Keith Phillips

"I would argue the safest and most lucrative place to invest is very far upstream with who controls the raw material you need to make what you want to make," Phillips said. "There's nothing to recycle if you don't have any lithium for instance. There's nothing to charge if you don't have a lithium-ion battery."

But a significant barrier to entry exists for any outfit looking to become a lithium producer.

"We're not aware of any other spodumene deposits in the U.S.," Phillips said of the company's North Carolina project. "There may be some, but nobody has found them yet. So it'll take decades for someone else to commercialize one."

Phillips said Piedmont expects to generate EBITDA margins "well north" of 50%. The company also aims to become an integrated producer that will process its own raw materials as well.

"From an investor's perspective, one of the very good backdrops is there will be more and more capital coming into the EV/battery material space in the U.S. over the next several years as people get to understand it better," Phillips said. "Now is a pretty interesting time to be investing."

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