Lithium companies in the US are seeing strong performances and plenty of news in 2023.
Lithium and the larger US battery metals sector received a boost from the American government last October as President Joe Biden announced US$2.8 billion in grants to companies working to create a domestic battery supply chain in the country.
Experts and company representatives spoke about the Act and the challenges still facing US companies at Fastmarket’s Lithium Supply and Battery Raw Materials conference in June, some of which are slow permitting and lack of sufficient conversion capacity.
“Getting consistent commercial-scale, battery-grade material and qualification into the supply chain is going to be one of the biggest challenges the industry faces,” said Sarah Maryssael, Livent’s chief strategy officer.
Although lithium prices fell during late 2022 and early 2023, at the end of April, carbonate prices saw a rebound when Chile nationalized its lithium industry and have since stabilized around the US$30,000 mark.
1. Atlas Lithium (NASDAQ:ATLX)
Year-to-date gain: 228.07 percent; market cap: C$213.40 million; current share price: C$21.39
Atlas Lithium is a strategic minerals company with a portfolio of battery metals projects in Brazil. The company is currently focused on advancing and developing the Neves project area within its wholly owned Minas Gerais hard-rock lithium project. In February, Atlas discovered the Anitta pegmatite target at Neves, which is now the focus of drilling to delineate a resource in and around the target.
In April, the company shared that a drill hole at Anitta intersected high grade lithium including 4.4 percent lithium oxide, news that started Atlas’ share price on an upwards climb throughout the month. On April 24, Atlas revealed details from a metallurgical report on lithium recoveries from Neves ore; heavy liquid separation performed on the ore achieved a “very high grade of 7.22 percent,” according to the report, and dense media separation resulted in commercial-grade lithium concentrate grading 6.04 percent lithium with a recovery of 70 percent.
News from Atlas’ Neves project drove the company’s share price upwards in early Q2. Atlas’ share price peaked on May 2 at US$41.46, the day the company announced a royalty transaction with Lithium Royalty (TSX:LIRC,OTC Pink:LITRF). Atlas will receive an immediate US$20 million for a 3 percent gross overriding revenue royalty. Although Atlas’ share price fell afterwards, it has since held above US$20.
At the end of June, Atlas Lithium announced that the Neves project was granted priority review status for its environmental permitting and licensing by the State of Minas Gerais, which the company believes “could meaningfully expedite the permitting and licensing of its Project.” Most recently, it intersected a new high-mark for lithium mineralization, with an interval between 9.2 to 10.3 meters from the surface grading 5.23 percent in an area the company is dubbing Anitta 2.
In addition to developing its project, Atlas plans to build a lithium processing plant that can produce up to 300,000 metric tons (MT) of lithium concentrate per year. To help advance it, the company signed a memorandum of understanding with Mitsui (OTC Pink:MITSY,TSE:8031) for US$65 million of funding in tranches back in January, in return for which Mitsui will obtain the rights to purchase 100 percent of the plant’s output. In June, Atlas announced that it has purchased land for the plant and engaged consultants for its planning and design.
2. Livent (NYSE:LTHM)
Year-to-date gain: 41.99 percent; market cap: C$5.14 billion; current share price: C$28.61
Livent is a global lithium producer with manufacturing facilities in North America, South America, Europe and Asia. It creates lithium products that serve diverse markets, such as energy storage and battery systems, polymers, aerospace and pharmaceuticals. The company also owns 50 percent of Nemaska Lithium, which is advancing its Whabouchi mine and its Bécancour lithium hydroxide facility in James Bay, Quebec.
Following a strong start to the year and a muted March and April, Livent’s share price begin climbing again in May, which included significant news for the company. On May 2 Livent released its results for the first quarter, featuring record revenue of US$253.5 million, a 16 percent increase quarter-on-quarter and a 77 percent one year-on-year.
A blockbuster news item came on May 10, when Livent and Allkem (ASX:AKE,OTC Pink:OROCF) announced a US$10.6 billion mega merger between the two lithium giants. The merger of equals is expected to close by the end of the year, with Allkem shareholders owning approximately 56 percent of the resultant entity and Livent ones owning the remainder.
Later that month, Nemaska signed an 11 year lithium hydroxide agreement with Ford (NYSE:F) to supply 13,000 MT of lithium hydroxide annually once Bécancour is online. Before that time, Nemaska will supply the auto company with spodumene concentrate from Whabouchi
Livent’s share price has continued to climb through July, ultimately hitting a new peak for the year at US$28.87 on July 18.
3. Sigma Lithium (NASDAQ:SGML)
Year-to-date gain: 40.76 percent; market cap: C$4.1 billion; current share price: C$40.54
In Minas Gerais, Brazil, Sigma Lithium is now a lithium miner, as its Grota do Cirilo hard-rock lithium project began Phase 1 production on April 17. Sigma anticipates annual production of 270,000 MT for Phase 1 and 766,000 MT from the second and third phases if they proceed. As part of Phase 1, the company commissioned a greentech dense media separation production plant, which it says will make its operations vertically integrated.
The company refers to its battery-grade sustainable lithium concentrate product as green lithium, because the greentech plant “features 100% dry-stacked tailings, 100% clean energy, 100% recycled water and zero hazardous chemicals.”
Sigma’s share price jumped nearly US$5 in mid-February, when Bloomberg shared that Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) was considering a takeover of Sigma, citing “people with knowledge of the matter.” However, during Tesla’s Investor Day event on March 1, CEO Elon Musk put a damper on that rumor when he said his company is more interested in lithium refining than mining.
On April 10, Sigma Lithium announced that COPAM, the Minas Gerais state environmental regulator, had awarded Sigma its environmental operating license for Grota do Cirilo, which allows the company to sell all of its lithium from current and future operations. The news drove the company’s share price to a year-to-date high of C$39.90 on April 14.
As mentioned, Sigma achieved first production at 75 percent nameplate throughput capacity on April 17, and it is expected to reach full production in July. On April 27, the company began the process of moving its lithium to port.
Sigma announced the signings of a 300,000 MT green tailings offtake agreement and a 15,000 MT green lithium sale on May 3, both of which were with Yahua, a top lithium chemical refining company. It received the first payment for its tailings later that month.
4. Piedmont Lithium (NASDAQ:PLL)
Year-to-date gain: 31.81 percent; market cap: C$1.17 billion; current share price: C$61.16
Based in the US state of North Carolina, Piedmont Lithium is focused on producing lithium hydroxide to provide companies with a source outside of China. To do so, Piedmont is advancing its fully integrated Carolina lithium project in North Carolina and is planning the largest US lithium hydroxide plant, which will be in Tennessee. The company received a US$141.7 million grant for the plant from the US government last year.
Piedmont has interests outside the US as well. In Quebec, Canada, Piedmont has a 25 percent interest in the Sayona Quebec joint venture with Sayona Mining (ASX:SYA,OTCQB:SYAXF). The two companies successfully restarted spodumene production at Sayona Quebec’s North American Lithium (NAL) project in March, which is expected to produce 226,000 MT annually and is set to begin commercial shipments in Q3.
In mid-February, Piedmont announced that LG Chem (KRX:051910) was investing US$75 million in Piedmont, and that the battery maker had signed a four year offtake agreement for a total of 200,000 MT of spodumene from the NAL project; it will be used to create cathode materials that comply with the US Inflation Reduction Act. Piedmont’s share price hit a year-to-date peak of US$73.46 on the news before moving back down in the following weeks.
Piedmont has an earn-in agreement for up to a 50 percent interest in Atlantic Lithium’s (ASX:A11,LSE:ALL,OTC Pink:ALLIF) lithium portfolio in Ghana, including its flagship Ewoyaa project, which Piedmont plans to use to partially feed its Tennessee plant.
However, in early March, Piedmont’s share price was hurt by a short seller report written by Blue Orca, which has a short interest in the miner. Blue Orca claimed that some of Atlantic Lithium’s licenses were obtained by “making secret payments … (to the) family of a high-level Ghana politician.’ Blue Orca, which has a short interest in Piedmont, said this makes the Ghana government unlikely to approve Atlantic’s mining licenses for the Ewoyaa project.
Atlantic firmly denied the allegations and also said that the targeted licenses aren’t part of its mining license application for Ewoyaa. Piedmont stated that even without supply from Ewoyaa, it will be able to secure supply elsewhere.
News of the NAL restart helped the company’s share price recover, and in April, the company filed its feasibility study for the Tennessee plant, which will produce 30,000 MT of lithium hydroxide annually. Construction of the plant is expected to begin in 2024. Estimated study economics show an after-tax net present value of US$2.5 billion at an 8 percent discount and an after-tax internal rate of return of 32 percent.
In June, two more technical reports were released: Atlantic Lithium published a definitive feasibility study for Ewoyaa with a production target of 340,000 MT of spodumene concentrate per year, and Sayona published a preliminary technical study for NAL’s lithium carbonate production.
5. Lithium Americas (NYSE:LAC)
Year-to-date gain: 8.61 percent; market cap: C$3.35 billion; current share price: C$20.94
Lithium Americas is focused on advancing its multiple significant lithium projects: Caucharí-Olaroz and Pastos Grandes in Argentina and Thacker Pass in Nevada, US. According to the lithium company, Thacker Pass holds “the largest known source of lithium in the United States and the third largest in the world.”
Lithium Americas intends to separate into two entities by the end of 2023, US-focused Lithium Americas and Argentina-focused Lithium International, and the board of directors approved this plan in May.
In January, Lithium Americas’ share price jumped overnight on the news that the company and General Motors (NYSE:GM) would be jointly investing in developing Thacker Pass, with General Motors planning to invest a total of US$650 million in Lithium Americas over two tranches. The first was contingent on the ruling from the US District Court for Nevada with regards to an appeal by a third party of the Bureau of Land Management’s approval of the company’s plans for Thacker Pass.
On February 7, the Nevada court ruled in Lithium Americas’ favor, meaning the approval stands. This news brought its share price to a year-to-date high of US$25.89 and resulted in General Motors moving forward with the agreement. February 16 saw the completion of the first tranche with a US$320 million investment, which guarantees the car company exclusive access to Phase 1 production from Thacker Pass. As of March 2, Lithium Americas has commenced construction, and Phase 1 production of 40,000 MT per year is anticipated in H2 2026.
The lithium company completed its previously announced acquisition of Arena Minerals on April 20. Arena owns 65 percent of the Sal de la Puna project in Argentina’s Pastos Grandes basin.
“While our focus remains on near-term startup of production at Caucharí-Olaroz, the addition of Arena provides increased flexibility as we continue to advance our growth plans in Argentina,” Lithium Americas Vice Chairman John Kanellitas said.
On that note, in June, Lithium Americas produced its first lithium carbonate at Caucharí-Olaroz as part of commissioning. While it was not battery quality, purification equipment that can achieve that should be completed in H2, according to the company.
Securities Disclosure: I, Lauren Kelly, currently hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.