Albemarle Technology Park: 5 Questions with CTO Glen Merfeld 

In mid-December, Albemarle Corporation announced a $180 million plan to establish a major technology campus in University City. Albemarle Technology Park expects to create 200 jobs and provide a $644.5 million boost to North Carolina’s economy over 12 years.

Here, we dig in with Glen Merfeld, chief technology officer with Albemarle, to learn more about the the company’s plans, the day-to-day operations in the new facility, whom they plan to hire, and what made University City attractive.

Where is lithium used and how important is it today? 

Lithium is an essential element in things we use daily without realizing it. In the simplest form, it’s a chemical element on the periodic table with the symbol Li and the atomic number 3. It’s also the lightest metal. You can find it in laptops, cell phones, toys, ceramics, heat-resistant glass, industrial refrigeration, and even pacemakers.

Glen Merfeld, CTO, Albemarle Corp.

Over the last several years, lithium has become a household word as the demand for electric vehicles (EV) has increased. In 2021, 6.5 million electric cars were sold globally, with expectations to grow to around 10.5 million in 2022. The consensus is that total EV sales in 2030 will be about 30 million. The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects 672 million EVs globally by 2050. That’s quite an increase from where we are today. These EVs require lithium-ion batteries, and lithium-ion batteries require lithium. But it’s not just EVs where lithium plays a role. As the spotlight on sustainability in the energy industry grows, we see an increasing demand for wind and solar power. That power must be stored, which involves using lithium-ion batteries, requiring more lithium.

What exactly will this research and development facility handle on a daily basis?

We’re continuously working to develop new technologies and processes that will drive innovation in what is known as advanced energy storage. Much of our focus is on ways to enhance how we source lithium, improve production methods, and introduce new forms of lithium to increase overall battery performance. Our work also involves finding ways to make batteries more efficient, charge faster, or deliver more range, which means driving more miles before the need to recharge. We are also investigating even more sustainable production processes.

Albemarle Technology Park Rendering (PRNewsfoto/Albemarle Corporation)

Why is this an important, growing industry?

Energy storage is an important and growing industry for a variety of reasons. Most of them are associated with global sustainability efforts to help fight climate change, driving significant growth in demand for EVs and commercial or industrial battery storage. Countries worldwide are establishing key policies such as CO2 emissions standards and zero-emission vehicle mandates, which support the growth in EVsand more sustainable energy. Lithium-ion batteries play a crucial role in making these things possible. Almost every major car maker has announced a transition to EVs as a significant part of their offering. Some have said they are moving completely to EVs in the 2030s.

This growth is taking place in both passenger cars and trucks, as well as in semi-trucks, commercial vehicles and delivery vans used by Amazon, UPS, Federal Express and others. We are all seeing an increase in wind and solar energy by the leading power companies. And a growing number of commercial and industrial buildings are using solar to power their facilities. Both require a way to store generated energy–enter the lithium-ion battery. Ultimately, it’s all connected to looking for ways to create a more resilient and sustainable world. Advanced energy storage technology will go a long way toward helping make that a reality, and at Albemarle, we’re proud to play a part.

What made University City attractive?

University City is a conveniently located, vibrant community with abundant resources and activities making it an attractive place to work and live. We can build a world-class facility that will become home to hundreds of employees. When you combine all of this, it’s helpful to us as well from a recruiting standpoint as we continue to grow and work to attract talent locally, regionally, and globally. It’s also attractive to us because it is close to our global corporate headquarters, our operations in Kings Mountain and the rapidly expanding EV hub that North Carolina and the Charlotte region are quickly becoming.

We look forward to being an active member of the University City community and sincerely appreciate the early welcome and support we have received.

The project estimates creating 200 jobs. Will they all be local?

Our focus is always to look locally when building our team. When we consider the jobs to support our new technology center, we will have some employees transition from other locations, including Kings Mountain, N.C. 

Most of the technology center roles will be technical, along with some administrative positions. Our goal is to expand our diverse team of professionals with science and engineering backgrounds to help us develop new processes and technologies to support our continued leadership in advanced energy storage solutions.

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