The State is expected to host 18 projects and $10.9 billion in investments.

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which came on the books a year ago in August, had as one of its purposes the encouragement of investments in electric vehicle and battery production. One year later, a so-called “battery belt” is emerging that stretches from Michigan to Georgia, with South Carolina right in the thick of it.

Since the IRA was signed into law, private industry had announced 210 major new clean energy projects across the country, with electric vehicle and battery manufacturing accounting for over half of those, according to a report from E2, a nonpartisan group of business leaders. Of the total of $86.3 billion in investments ongoing across the country, South Carolina is slated to host 18 projects for a total of $10.9 billion in investments, according to the same report.

It’s no wonder that Barbara Melvin, president, and CEO of the South Carolina Ports Authority is bullish on the economy of the Southeast United States and, by extension, on the Port of Charleston. “The Southeast is booming,” she said. The region “is thriving with an influx of new residents and industrial growth,” singling out electric vehicle and battery operations as a particular growth area.

In 2022, South Carolina saw announced total capital investments of a record $10.27 billion, representing a 118% increase over 2017, while foreign direct investment in 2022 increased 371% over 2021 in the state. Besides the electrical vehicle and battery space, other recent announcements have included investments in the transportation, distribution, cold storage, engineering, manufacturing, and metals recycling industries. A study authored by Joseph Von Nessen, a professor at the University of South Carolina, and released in mid-October, showed that the Port of Charleston generates an $87 billion statewide economic impact annually.

“These investments are expected to drive SC Ports’ cargo growth at a higher rate than national trends,” added Melvin. South Carolina Ports finished fiscal year 2023 with container volumes above 2021 levels, booming activity at its inland ports, and a strong start to fiscal year 2024. (See Intermodal growth at South Carolina ports)

Barbara Melvin, president and CEO of the SCPA

SC Nexus and Tech Hub

South Carolina has embarked on a strategy to secure its place in the EV ecosystem. Earlier this year and in 2022, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster signed two executive orders which created an interagency group to plan the deployment of electric vehicle infrastructures across the state and a website, launched in February 2023, which serves as a virtual hub for information about the industry.

Following on the governor’s lead, SC Nexus, a public/private consortium led by the South Carolina Department of Commerce (S.C. Commerce), recently applied for designation as a Regional Technology and Innovation Hub under a U.S. Department of Commerce program, which would make the region eligible to apply for a share of the $10 billion in funding made available through the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022. SC Nexus’ membership of 35 organizations includes S.C. Commerce, the Savannah River National Laboratory, the South Carolina Council on Competitiveness, and several institutions of higher education.

SC Nexus’ application focuses on “advanced resilient energy,” which includes energy generation, distribution, and storage, and the development of technologies related to manufacturing of energy components and materials and new battery technologies. The applications’ defined geographical areas include the Greenville-Anderson, Spartanburg, and Columbia metropolitan areas.

“SC Nexus will fuel historic and innovative R&D investments,” said Susie Shannon, president, and CEO of the South Carolina Council on Competitiveness, and “will build a sustainable energy ecosystem to position South Carolina as a global model for powering industry and society for generations to come.”

Among the planned capital investments in the EV space, one of the largest is the Redwood Materials manufacturing facility in Berkeley County. The company makes anode and cathode battery components and is investing $3.5 billion for a 600-acre campus, construction on which broke ground earlier this year.

The Nevada-based company chose its location, said J.B. Straubel, Redwood’s CEO, because “localizing the production of battery components and ensuring these materials are recycled is the only way to drive down costs, emissions, and geopolitical risks while meeting U.S. battery and electrification demand.”

Located in Camp Hall, 35 miles northwest of the Port of Charleston, Redwood Materials’ facility will be 100% electric. “We will source only zero emission, clean energy,” said Straubel. “We will not even pull a gas line to the site.”

Straubel also noted that some of Redwood’s existing customers, such as Toyota, Volvo, Panasonic, and Envision AESC, are already located in the region, and that the Port of Charleston and ready rail access provide strong logistics opportunities. “This strategic location allows us the opportunity to invest more heavily at home,” he said, “while potentially exporting in the future.”

Cirba Solutions, also a battery company, announced plans to build a new facility in Richland County. An initial investment of over $300 million will jump start Cirba’s integrated lithium-ion battery materials campus at the Pineview Industrial Park in Columbia, 115 miles northwest of the Port of Charleston.

Following that first phase of investment, the company plans to build a 400,000-square-foot lithium-ion battery recycling and materials campus that will focus on processing end-of-life hybrid and EV batteries and battery scrap to extract materials such as nickel, cobalt, and lithium. The company is planning to invest over $1 billion in the EV sector over the next five years, to expand the infrastructure required to meet the growing demand for materials needed for EV lithium-ion batteries.

“These metals will support the United States domestic lithium-ion battery supply chain,” said David Klanecky, president, and chief executive officer of Cirba Solutions, “and will provide enough premium recycled battery-grade metal salts to power over 500,000 electric vehicles batteries annually.”

South Carolina’s Coordinating Council for Economic Development has already approved job development credits related to this project and an additional $3 million grant to Richland County to assist with the costs of site preparation and building construction.

The Cirba facility will also be used as an educational and professional training center, highlighting processing technology for end-of-life batteries. The Richland County facility, where operations are expected to begin in late 2024, will be the company’s eighth in North America and its fourth located in the U.S. battery belt.