The Koura Global chemical plant in St. Gabriel plans to retrofit its facility to begin producing a primary component in lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles. (Wes Muller/Louisiana Illuminator)
ST. GABRIEL — A chemical plant in Louisiana that faced possible downsizing or even closure is now expanding to become America’s first domestic manufacturer of critical lithium battery materials thanks to new federal infrastructure investments.
Koura Global, which has a plant that makes fluorine refrigerants at its facility just south of Baton Rouge, will retrofit its facilities to manufacture lithium hexafluorophosphate (LiPF6), a primary component in lithium-ion batteries. At full capacity, the plant will produce enough of the chemical to make more than a million electric vehicle (EV) batteries a year.
U.S. Rep Troy Carter, D-Louisiana, who represents the 2nd Congressional District between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, told Koura’s employees Friday that their work will address a “critical gap in our domestic supply chain” for lithium-ion batteries.
The plant currently manufactures a fluorine refrigerant that is being replaced with a more environmentally friendly chemical. Koura will retrofit its current operations to produce the new refrigerant, but a $100 million U.S. Department of Energy grant will allow the company to construct new facilities at the plant to pivot into the battery industry, according to Koura executive Erick Comeaux.
The grant is one of thousands made available under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that President Joe Biden ushered through Congress in 2021. Also known as the Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act (IIJA), the plan is the country’s largest federal infrastructure investment in decades. It includes money for investments in domestic manufacturing, transportation, energy, drinking water systems, environmental remediation and broadband internet expansion, among other things.
Federal, state and local leaders visited the Koura plant Friday to celebrate the news. The cohort included Carter, U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, Gov. John Bel Edwards and St. Gabriel Mayor Lionel Johnson.
The country is seeing a “huge expansion” of manufacturing because of Biden’s infrastructure investments, and the Koura plant will serve as the “tip of the spear” in American battery manufacturing, Granholm said.
Another critical component in the battery supply chain is the mining of raw minerals such as lithium and cobalt, most of which comes from Africa and China. The Energy Department has plans to expand domestic mining of those minerals and try to source them from friendly countries that are also mining the minerals, Granholm said.
Edwards said the federal investments have strengthened Louisiana’s economy, which currently has the most people ever employed in the state’s history. More than $50 billion of low-carbon energy projects have been funded in Louisiana, he said.
The governor pointed out Louisiana is the only southeastern state with a climate action plan and said states can either embrace the energy transition or lose out on opportunities such as this.
The federal grant money will be combined with Koura’s investment for what is estimated to be a $400 million project. The company will also offer scholarships and training to cultivate a workforce for its operations.
Company representatives said they expect to begin construction next year. The plant will double its current workforce to roughly 160 employees and 40 full-time contractors.
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