Japanese firm shifts copper foil plans from SC to Georgia

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — A Japanese company announced plans Wednesday for a $150 million plant to make copper foil for electric vehicle batteries in Augusta, Georgia, instead of at its previously announced location near an existing Camden, South Carolina, facility.

Nippon Denkai's American subsidiary said it would hire more than 100 people and could eventually triple production at the Georgia site from an initial 9,500 metric tons (10,500 tons) to 28,500 metric tons (31,500 tons). That would raise investment to $430 million and create 250 jobs over the next five years.

“Our goal is to triple the capacity in Augusta; market conditions will determine timeline,” said Denkai America spokesperson Michael Coll.

The company said it would raise its initial investment by $10 million from what it had announced in December. It told Japanese investors that the 115-acre (47-hectare) Augusta site is better than the South Carolina location because there is room for expansion, because it can host an “advanced” equipment layout and because of a “key cost competitive edge in electricity price.”

State and local officials will give the company what could be more than $76 million in tax breaks and incentives.

Nippon Denkai said it will start construction in September and hopes to be shipping samples to manufacturers by the summer of 2024.

The company said it sees a big opportunity to make copper foil for electric vehicle battery makers, saying many battery plants are being built in the United States, but few copper foil plants are. Nippon Denkai said that companies will want domestic sources to avoid supply chain problems including risks of politically driven supply disruptions. The company projects an annual 21.4% growth in copper foil demand through 2035.

Nippon Denkai said the ability to triple production in Augusta will allow it to pursue that growth. Combined with the 30-year-old Camden plant, the company would have an American production capacity of more than 35,000 metric tons.

In June, Denkai announced a smaller $14 million expansion at the 80-worker Camden plant, also related to expansion in the electric battery and vehicle market.

Augusta-Richmond County will give property tax breaks valued at a projected $68.7 million over 25 years, although the company will pay $30 million in taxes, according to the Augusta Economic Development Authority. The company gets free land valued at $2.25 million, said Cal Wray, the authority's president. Georgia officials said they will spend an undisclosed amount of money to train workers. Nippon Denkai could claim various state tax breaks, including an income tax credit allowing it to annually deduct $4,000 per job from state income taxes, up to $5 million over five years, as long as workers make at least $28,000 a year.

Georgia Economic Development Commissioner Pat Wilson pointed to the announcement as more fruit of the state's focus on what he calls a “generational opportunity” in electric vehicles, including the $5 billion Rivian Automotive plant east of Atlanta and the $5.5 billion Hyundai Motor Group plant near Savannah.

Wray said a $347 million, 125-job copper smelter announced by Aurubis AG in Augusta is another development driven by the growth in electric vehicles.