Lithium company Ioneer receives a $700 million contingent loan from the Energy Department

Company Lithium ionians said Friday it has received a conditional commitment for a loan of up to $700 million from the Department of Energy as the U.S. seeks to develop new supply chains for materials critical to the energy transition.

Ioneer is developing the Rhyolite Ridge lithium-boron project in Esmeralda County, Nevada. When fully operational, the site will produce enough lithium for 400,000 electric vehicles, the company said, while also producing boron.

The plant is not yet in operation, but Ioneer has already secured offtake agreements with it ford Spirit Toyota. Some experts believe there simply won’t be enough lithium to meet the EV-driven demand boom, meaning automakers are increasingly making deals with upstream players to secure supplies.

Rhyolite Ridge is a joint venture with mining company Sibanye-Stillwater, which owns 50% of the project following a $490 million investment in September 2021.

The permitting process for new lithium mines is extensive. Ioneer’s loan from the DOE is subject to several conditions, including the company obtaining all necessary approvals. The company said in December that it was in the final stages of the state permitting process. The Center for Biodiversity has spoken out against the project, saying it poses an “existential threat” to a rare wildflower.

If approved, the loan, made under the DOE’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program, will be dedicated to Ioneer’s on-site lithium processing facility.

Esmeralda County is also home to Albemarles Silver Peak facility, which is currently the only operating lithium facility in the United States

In Silver Peak, America's only active lithium mine

The US has plenty of lithium, but extracting it from the ground is expensive, and new projects often face opposition over environmental concerns.

Still, Friday’s announcement is the latest in a string of lithium companies announcing new or expanded U.S. assets under the Inflation Reduction Act. The legislation provides support for lithium companies on the manufacturer side and also ties the incentives for EV tax breaks to where the vehicle battery is manufactured.

Albemarle is in the process of reopening its Kings Mountain mine in North Carolina while doubling production at its Silver Peak facility.

Piedmont lithium unveiled plans for a new lithium refining facility in Tennessee in September and Lithium America is in the process of developing its Thacker Pass mine in Nevada. The project was delayed by years of approval hurdles.

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