orth Carolina’s push into electric vehicle and EV battery manufacturing is a prime example of how to recognize and leverage an asset. Just northwest of Charlotte lies the Carolina Tin-Spodumene Belt. Along a thin line some 25 miles long, the dense, geologic formation contains the country’s largest hard rock deposit of lithium. Long considered nearly valueless, lithium today is in high demand as the key component in all manner of electronics, including EV batteries. The lithium belt has thus become the first stop along a burgeoning value chain comprising raw materials, R&D and EV production in North Carolina.
“The Tin-Spodumene Belt will have a tremendous impact on the production of lithium-Ion batteries,” says Robert Keynton, dean of the William States Lee College of Engineering at The University of North Carolina at Charlotte. “It’s one of the major reasons,” Keynton tells Site Selection, “why so many battery manufacturers are moving to the Carolinas.”
EV-related companies establishing operations in and around the Charlotte region have come to include the Vietnamese automaker Vinfast; British delivery van maker, Arrival; battery separator provider Celgard and mining companies that include Charlotte-based Albemarle, Piedmont Lithium and Livent. Most recently, alpitronic America, a leading European maker of EV charging units, selected Charlotte for its North American headquarters, complete with test facility.
Valuable as they are, its lithium deposits, believes Keynton, are far from the only asset the region brings to the table. North Carolina, he says, has established itself as “a major hub” for EV technology and battery manufacturing.
“The Tin-Spodumene Belt will have a tremendous impact on the production of lithium-Ion batteries.”
— Robert Keynton, Dean, William States Lee College of Engineering,
“A significant part of this leadership,” he says, “is UNC Charlotte’s history in the vehicle and technology areas, including motorsports and energy. UNC Charlotte,” he says, “is a proven leader in energy research for over 15 years, has the core disciplines, research and industry partnerships to propel innovation and is uniquely positioned to lead North Carolina in transformational energy.”
Engineers of Tomorrow
Recently, UNC Charlotte christened its 15,500-sq.-ft. Battery Complexity, Autonomous Vehicle and Electrification Research Center. Known as the BATT CAVE, it’s the emerging crown jewel in the university’s $40 million drive to upgrade research facilities and create a new generation of engineers and technicians to meet the demands of the EV industry. With partners that include GM, BMW, Albemarle, Duke Energy and the U.S. Department of Energy, BATT CAVE is North Carolina’s only university-led research center focused on electric vehicles.
“BATT CAVE,” says Keynton, “is positioned to be an international leader in the creation of knowledge, technology development and commercially viable products to address our country’s demands for discovery and innovation in emerging sectors of ultra-high-performance batteries, energy storage systems, autonomous control systems and their integration into systems and vehicles. Just as important, we offer academic programs that are training the workforce for these sectors, engineers of tomorrow that are ready to tackle the real-world challenges in this space.”
Located within the university’s Department of Bioinformatics, BATT CAVE’s 9,000 square feet of laboratory research and office include spaces devoted to battery materials; battery safety and optimization; multiscale materials and mechanics; air, land and sea autonomous vehicles; and wireless power transfer for railway electrification.
“BATT CAVE,” believes Keynton, “is providing critical momentum to support North Carolina’s top area of economic development. The center enables R&D advancement for the battery and related industries’ expansion in or relocation to the state. Through our fundamental and applied research programs, we create the next-generation technologies that will be employed in future products.
“In addition,” Keynton says, “UNC Charlotte is actively engaged in developing educational programs that focus on battery engineering to train the next-generation workforce in electrification, energy storage and mobility. As BATT CAVE continues to grow, so will the number and breadth of academic programs offered.”