RENO, Nev. (AP) – General Motors Co. has agreed, subject to conditions, to invest $650 million in Lithium Americas Corp. to invest to give GM exclusive access to the first phase of a mine planned near the largest Nevada-Oregon line known lithium well in the United States
The capital investment, which the companies jointly announced Tuesday, is conditional on the Thacker Pass project clearing the final environmental and legal challenges it faces in federal court in Renowhere conservationists and tribal leaders are suing to block it.
Lawyers for the mining company and the U.S. government told a judge during a Jan. 5 hearing the project is critical to meeting the growing demand for lithium to make batteries for electric vehicles — a key part of President Joe Biden’s effort to get the Accelerate the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
GM said Tuesday’s announcement was the largest-ever investment by an automaker to produce battery raw materials.
Lithium Americas estimates that lithium extracted and processed from the project on an ancient volcano about 200 miles (321 kilometers) northeast of Reno can support the production of up to 1 million electric vehicles annually. It is the third largest known lithium deposit in the world, the company said.
“The agreement with GM is an important milestone in moving Thacker Pass toward production,” Lithium Americas President and CEO Jonathan Evans said in Tuesday’s joint statement.
“We are pleased to have GM as our largest investor and look forward to working together to accelerate the energy transition while boosting job creation and economic growth in America,” he said.
GM also reported on Tuesday that rising factory output late last year fueled strong U.S. sales and boosted fourth-quarter net income by 16% compared to the same period a year ago.
“GM has secured all of the battery material we need to build more than 1 million electric vehicles annually in North America by 2025, and our future production will increasingly draw from domestic resources such as the Nevada site we are developing with Lithium Americas said GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra.
The joint announcement states that GM’s investment will be split into two parts. The first will be held in escrow “pending on the satisfaction of certain conditions, including the outcome of the decision on the record of the decision, which is currently pending in the United States District Court.”
“When these conditions are met, the funds will be released and GM will become a shareholder in Lithium Americas,” the joint statement said.
Escrow clearance is expected to occur no later than late 2023, and lithium production is expected to begin in the second half of 2026, it said.
The second part of the investment is conditional, among other things, on Lithium Americas “securing capital to fund development spending in support of Thacker Pass,” the statement said.
Conservationists say the mine will destroy dwindling habitat for sage grouse, Lahontan cutthroat trout, pronghorn antelope and golden eagle, pollute the air and create a toxic column of water beneath the open pit deeper than the length of a football field.
Tribal leaders say it will destroy nearby sacred lands where dozens of their ancestors were massacred by US cavalry in 1865.
U.S. District Judge Miranda Du said after a three-hour hearing in Reno Jan. 5 that she hopes to make a decision “within the next few months” on how to proceed in the nearly two-year legal battle for the Bureau’s approval the land administration for the mine.
Lawyers for the company and the bureau insisted that the project complies with US laws and regulations. But they said if you find that’s not the case, she should stop revoking the agency’s approval and let initial work begin at the site when further reviews are initiated.
Opponents said that shouldn’t happen because environmental damage is irreversible.
US Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., welcomed GM’s announcement, which he said would increase its efforts to develop US-made batteries for electric vehicles and other applications. China currently controls about 80% of the world’s anode production and 75% of the world’s lithium-ion battery cells, Manchin said.
“I’m old enough to remember … 1974, standing in line waiting to buy gas when it was my turn to buy gas to go to work,” Manchin said Tuesday in a speech in the US Senate. “I don’t intend to stand in line and wait for China to send a battery to make my car work. I just won’t do it. So we are moving in the direction we are in right now.”
“The United States is the world’s superpower and to retain that status you must have energy independence and be confident in your own energy sources,” Manchin said.