A NACCO subsidiary has signed an agreement to become an exclusive contract miner for the Thacker Pass lithium mine in northern Nevada, US.

Thacker Pass is expected to have the largest deposits of lithium in the US. It is 100% owned by Lithium Nevada Corp.

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In order to execute the agreement for this project, the North American Coal Corporation formed a wholly-owned subsidiary, Sawtooth Mining.

Sawtooth will be responsible for designing, constructing, operating and maintaining the Thacker Pass surface mine.

Lithium Nevada will refund operating and mine reclamation costs to Sawtooth, which will also receive a management fee per tonne of lithium delivered during the contract term.

Sawtooth will provide $3.5m in cash to Lithium Nevada for project development and other engineering services. It is also expected to invest up to $50m for the initial fleet of mining equipment after the receipt of permits and financing.

In turn, Lithium Nevada will award Sawtooth for reaching certain engineering, construction and production milestones.

NACCO and North American Coal president and chief executive officer JC Butler said: “We are pleased to partner with Lithium Americas to develop the Thacker Pass project, which we view as a key part of developing a strong lithium battery industry in the United States.

“We are highly confident that we can contribute to success at Thacker Pass. We have built five new surface mines for new customers in the last nine years, each providing an integrated solution to customer operations, and we have a strong track record of partnering with our customers for long-term success.”

Lithium Nevada expects to obtain permits by the end of next year and start construction in 2021. The plant is expected to be operational in 2023.