Syrah Resources planning $137.5M expansion project for 2023

Published 6:40 pm Wednesday, November 24, 2021

VIDALIA, La. — Leaders of Syrah Resources, a technology company located in Vidalia, Louisiana, boasted of a $137.5 million expansion project during a Tuesday community forum, which they said should bring additional jobs and provide an astronomical boost to the town’s economy.

Syrah has occupied the former rubber recycling plant located near the Vidalia Port since 2018.

Their operation mills graphite mined in Mozambique and shipped to Vidalia to produce active anode material to power lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles.

With the growing demand for green energy, the company said demand for such material is expected to double by 2030.

China has traditionally cornered the market for producing this material, however, Syrah officials say with their technology they can produce the same material with less than half the carbon dioxide emissions as production facilities in China.

Paul Jahn, Commercial Manager at Syrah, said the company plans to install the commercial capacity to produce 10 kilotons of anode material each year by 2023.

To do so, they will need to expand their Vidalia facility to add 75 graphite milling stations to the 12 existing stations, improve purification circuits and replace its single carbonization furnace with four larger furnaces, Jahn said.

Since 2018, Syrah has invested approximately $40 million in the Vidalia facility in Phase 1 of the operation and expects Phase 2 to be a $137.5 million investment or larger, Jahn said.

The company expects to make a final investment decision by December 2021, he said. Currently, Syrah is working to complete customer agreements and secure project financing, Jahn said.

Loren Scott, Ph.D, with the economic consulting firm Loren C. Scott & Associates Inc. said the project itself would have a direct impact on the local economy as contractors build the additions to the new facility and, while doing so, sleep in local hotels and shop at local grocery stores or eat at local restaurants.

On top of that, Syrah’s current workforce of 21 individuals would increase to at least 80 employees who would make more than double the average income in Concordia Parish with an average salary of $86,800.

In turn, this would have a ripple effect in the economy that could induce job creation in other areas such as restaurant and service industries as these wages are spent in Concordia Parish.

“If you think of Concordia Parish as this big economic pond, we’re going to take a rock and drop it into this pond. … When it hits, it’s going to create a ripple effect all the way out to the edge of the pond, creating more jobs, earnings and income,” Scott said.

Destiny Robb, a Vidalia citizen who is a member of an opposition group to Syrah’s facility, asked why the company would not hold a public hearing regarding the expansion to address environmental concerns that citizens may have.

She argued that Tuesday’s public forum, which took place on an afternoon the week of Thanksgiving while many are working or traveling, did not count as a public hearing.

Robb shared information posted on the social media page “Save Concordia Parish” which alleged the company takes part in “sham permitting” as a tactic to escape questions of environmental threats.

“Dilution does not excuse pollution,” she said. “We wish we could have had more time, and not Thanksgiving week, to hear both sides of the issue.”

However, Anne Duncan, who is the Vice President of Syrah’s Vidalia Operation, argued the facility is not harmful. She added greenhouse gas emission from transportation alone in the U.S. is three times higher than other countries combined.

Phase 2 would produce enough AAM to take over 300,000 internal combustion engines off of the road, equivalent to a quarter of Louisiana’s registered vehicles, she said.

“We’re a minor source with respect to our emissions,” she said.

In response to Robb’s “sham permitting” comment, Jahn said, “We in no way are trying to avoid a major source permit.” He added Syrah has been engaged with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Equality, who approved their process. He said Syrah’s graphite purification process, which uses acid leaching, is done safely and is used in the industry on a routine basis with safeguards in place.

When Mayor Buz Craft addressed Robb’s statements, Robb said Craft had been disrespectful to her and left the meeting.

“You make a lot of assertions that are not true,” Craft said. He added the opposition group, “would not listen to the science. It was hysteria.”

When another attendee to Tuesday’s forum asked why Syrah chose Vidalia for this project, Jahn said, “Why not?”

“In the process of siting this facility, we started with ‘what country,'” he said.

He added Vidalia stood out because the location had plenty of space to expand the operation and provides low-cost electricity generated by the downstream hydroelectric plant.

Vidalia also has a nearby port facility in Natchez to transport the graphite on the Mississippi River, he said.

“But what really tipped the scales was stakeholders in the community,” Jahn said.

Chandler Russ, Executive Director of Natchez Inc., said, Syrah has been unwavering in keeping all of their commitments since the project started in 2018.

“Very few times do companies say this and that is where they actually end up,” Russ said. “Event with COVID-19 setbacks, they have not wavered. They have not had one holdup since the project began. It is not every day that $150 million is dumped in our community. This is important. It is a growing industry that is going to be around for decades.”