Novonix CEO says Chattanooga ‘high on list’ for possible new plant

Growth plans hinge on financing, customers

Staff photo / The former Alstom plant in Chattanooga's westside downtown, shown in 2010, is now occupied by battery materials maker Novonix.

The chief executive of battery materials maker Novonix said Friday that Chattanooga is "high up on that list" of sites for a potential 1,000-worker plant, though the company is still looking at different locations.

"Certainly next year, we'll update on growth plans," CEO Chris Burns said in a video interview. "It will be predicated on financing and customer commitments. We feel we're in a strong position on both of them."

Burns said the Australia-based company already has about 100 employees at two Chattanooga facilities, including a production plant at a former Alstom factory at The Bend development off Riverfront Parkway. The company also has a site in Lookout Valley where it does testing and research.

Last year, Novonix won a $150 million federal award for a new factory, and U.S. Department of Energy documents identified Chattanooga as the possible future home for a $1 billion plant.

The company continues to have discussions with federal officials about a potential loan guarantee for a new facility, Burns said.

(READ MORE: DOE documents says Novonix eyes Chattanooga for new factory)

A week ago, Novonix said it has seen a breakthrough at its Chattanooga plant that will enable the factory to double the amount of synthetic graphite it initially plans to manufacture annually for electric vehicles and energy storage.

Charles Wood, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's chief executive, said the city's new economic development plan has technological innovation as one of its pillars.

"Chattanooga has exciting things happening," he said in a recent phone interview, noting it has companies that are on the leading edge of technology.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga growth plan aims to boost air service, business incubator, Gig City)

Novonix reaching production targets in Chattanooga is "a huge milestone," Burns said Friday.

"We see the potential to double output at the facility," he said. "It's a huge opportunity for the company."

Making the company's riverside plant more meaningful in terms of capacity gives Novonix the capability to supply key customers from the factory, officials said.

Novonix is looking to grow the workforce at the plant, Burns said. Novonix plans to employ nearly 300 workers when the site is fully operational, the company has said.

In the first quarter of next year, the company will have a more firm idea on the number of workers in Chattanooga, Burns said.

"It could be that number, or higher is in the realm of possibility," the CEO said.

By the end of first quarter of 2024, the company expects to have gathered a lot of information from new engineering work, he said.

The timetable for Novonix increasing its workforce and adding more production depends on customers, Burns said.

"One of the challenges is that the material is not a commodity," Burns said. "It's different between all customers. We hope to bring more supply agreements in the future."

Contact Mike Pare at [email protected] or 423-757-6318.