(Bloomberg) -- The US Energy Department is in talks to lend a record $1 billion to the developer of one of the country’s largest lithium deposits in a push to build out a domestic supply of critical minerals.
The Biden administration and Lithium Americas Corp. are negotiating the terms of an agreement that would fund more than half of the cost of the Thacker Pass mine in Nevada, according to a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified discussing confidential information.
Lithium Americas’ stock surged as much as 9.5% on Friday. The Energy Department said it doesn’t comment on loan applications. Vancouver-based Lithium Americas didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The outlay, which could exceed the $1 billion mark, would be the largest-ever loan awarded to a mining company through the Energy Department’s Loan Programs Office. The $2.2 billion project 500 miles (805 kilometers) northeast of San Francisco has been pegged as one of the country’s most promising opportunities to produce the metal used in electric-vehicle batteries, solar panels and wind turbines.
Biden is walking a fine line by trying to balance the raw-material demands of the energy transition against campaign promises to protect the environment. China has long dominated global supplies of commodities crucial to electric vehicles, prompting the Biden administration to extend billions of dollars in grants and tax incentives to encourage domestic production.
The Loan Programs Office has been lending to renewables projects and factories rather than upstream mines, which are generally more challenging and take longer to build. The commitments to the Thacker Pass project follows a $700 million conditional loan to Ioneer Ltd.’s Rhyolite Ridge lithium-boron project in Nevada, a prospective supplier to Ford Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. The Energy Department also previously provided $107 million to graphite supplier Syrah Resources Ltd. for an anode plant in Louisiana and $2 billion to Redwood Materials Inc. to expand a battery materials manufacturer in Nevada.
Thacker Pass raised the ire of environmentalists and tribal groups who unsuccessfully argued in court that it posed a threat to the surrounding landscape and was inadequately vetted.
Lithium Americas said in February it had received a letter of substantial completion from the Energy Department for its application to support the financing of Thacker Pass. The company said it expected the loan program to provide up to 75% of Thacker Pass’ total capital costs for construction, should a loan be issued.
(Updates with DOE loans background in sixth paragraph.)
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