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DOE offers Ioneer conditional commitment for a loan of up to US$700M for Rhyolite Ridge project

The US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Loan Programs Office (LPO) has offered a conditional commitment to lend up to $700 million to Ioneer Rhyolite Ridge LLC to develop a domestic supply of lithium carbonate for electric vehicle (EV) batteries from the Rhyolite Ridge Lithium-Boron Project (Rhyolite Ridge) in Esmeralda County, Nevada. (Earlier post.)

If finalized, LPO’s loan to the Rhyolite Ridge project would finance the on-site processing of lithium carbonate that could potentially support production of lithium for approximately 370,000 EVs each year.

Ioneer entered into a purchase agreement in September 2021 with Sibanye Stillwater Limited (Sibanye-Stillwater), a mining and metals processing company, to establish, subject to certain conditions, a joint venture related to the Rhyolite Ridge project. Sibanye-Stillwater is a valued interested party and expected partner in the project.

The conditional commitment comes on the heels of two critical materials loans closed by LPO—Syrah Technologies (earlier post), which will process active anode material, and Ultium Cells (earlier post), which will manufacture battery cells. These projects marked LPO’s first loans in the critical materials sector and the most recent loans under Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) Loan Program within the last decade.

The urgency to secure critical materials for batteries is expected to rapidly increase in the coming years as demand for lithium is projected to exceed current global production by 2030. This is subsequently causing US auto manufacturers to seek a robust domestic supply of critical materials to keep pace with the increased demand.

The Rhyolite Ridge project has executed offtake agreements with Ford, Prime Planet Energy & Solutions (a joint venture battery company between Toyota Motor Corporation and Panasonic Corporation), and EcoPro Innovation (the world's second largest lithium nickel-cobalt-aluminum oxide cathode materials manufacturer and a major cathode supplier for global battery manufacturers), with contracts ranging from three to five years.

While Asia currently dominates the lithium carbonate refining process, the Rhyolite Ridge deposit is one of two known sizeable lithium-boron deposits in the world and is expected to be the second lithium mine in the United States. LPO expects the project to further develop a socially and environmentally responsible US supply chain for lithium.

Rhyolite Ridge is working to minimize impact to Tiehm’s buckwheat, a plant species that is endemic to Esmeralda County, Nevada, and that is listed as Endangered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. (Earlier post.) T

The project has already invested $1.2 million on research to preserve the plant and has revised its entire Mine Plan of Operations to avoid all direct impacts to the plant. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will formally consult with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to assess the potential impacts of the project on Tiehm’s buckwheat, and is also preparing an Environmental Impact Statement pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

LPO issuance of the loan is contingent on Rhyolite Ridge’s completion of NEPA and commitment to allowing LPO to monitor the site.


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