Major Nevada lithium project clears court hurdle

‘We expect phase-one ramp up and first production to occur in the second half of 2026’

Lithium Americas Corp is a step closer to banking US$650 million of General Motors funding and building its proposed $4 billion lithium project in Nevada, USA, after a US District Court rejected an appeal against the federal Bureau of Land Management’s 2021 record of decision approving the project.

Lithium Americas (LAC) announced a two-part investment by GM last month, subject to it finalising its record of decision (ROD) and then arranging the rest of the finance it needs to fully develop Thacker Pass as per its feasibility study project plan. Part two is also contingent on LAC splitting its US and South America lithium activities, which it is aiming to do in the second half of this year.

The developer wants to start construction at Thacker Pass in the middle of this year and deliver 80,000 tons per annum of production in two 40,000tpa phases. It says 25% of the total resource outlined at Thacker Pass can support a 40-year operation. Phase one will cost about $2.27 billion and phase two $1.73b.

“It’s the only [large-scale lithium] project in the US with a record of decision and all state permits to start construction,” LAC CEO Jonathan Evans told analysts last month.

After the new District Court ruling LAC still needs to work with the BLM to verify the adequacy of its “mining-claim rights to the lands over the area in which the waste storage and tailings are expected to be located, based on an appellate decision that was issued after the BLM issued its ROD for Thacker Pass”.

“The company intends to work closely with the BLM to complete the required follow-up,” LAC said this week.

Evans said last month construction activity would start “once we have a ruling on the record of decision appeal”. He did not have a clear view then of the timing of the appeal ruling, indicating it could take a couple of months. Now he says the favourable District Court ruling “leaves in place the final regulatory approval needed in moving Thacker Pass into construction”.

LAC’s joint announcement with GM last month said the car maker’s initial $330m investment for about 10% of LAC awaited the ROD appeal decision. The subsequent $320m would be released post the LAC business separation and it getting Thacker Pass fully financed.

“The construction timeline is a conservative three years,” Evans said last month.

“We expect phase-one ramp up and first production to occur in the second half of 2026.

“We view GM’s $650 million investment in Lithium Americas as a transformative transaction in the battery raw materials industry, forging a partnership between GM, a leading global auto OEM in the US and LAC, owner of the largest known lithium resource in the US.

“We expect the investment to meaningfully accelerate the development of Thacker Pass which once in production will spearhead the US EV transition and building a domestic EV supply chain.

“Along with the investment GM will have exclusive rights for Thacker Pass stage-one production designed for 40,000tpa of battery quality lithium carbonate for 10 years, with an option by GM to extend for an additional five years. GM will also have a right of first offer on phase two uptake.”

For its part, GM’s EV raw material centre of excellence executive director, Sham Kunjur, said the company would secure enough battery-grade lithium carbonate to “produce 1 million EVs annually … [and] probably about 20% of what we need [in total] by 2030”.

Lithium carbonate from Thacker Pass will be used in GM’s proprietary Ultium battery cells. The company is aiming for annual capacity of 160 gigawatt hours from four US cell plants, including the Ultium Cells joint venture plant with LG Energy Solution in Warren, Ohio, which is in production, and additional JV sites in Spring Hill, Tennessee and Lansing, Michigan that are scheduled to open in 2023 and 2024, respectively.

LAC’s Evans said production from Thacker Pass was expected to have about 40% lower CO2 emissions than competing hard rock mines and conversion facilities.

“The project benefits from our co-located sulfuric acid plant, which generates steam as a natural by-product to provide carbon free power,” he said.

Bechtel was awarded the engineering, procurement and construction management (EPCM) contract to build the Thacker Pass processing plant.

LAC’s share price was up more than 10c Tuesday, capitalising the company at circa-$3.49 billion.


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