Planet Gore

Bolivia’s Lithium Reserves

The Obama future of hybrid cars relies, for the moment at least, on batteries where lithium is a major component. Bolivia has about half of the world’s proven reserves of the metal. The latest out of Bolivia, however, is that they’re not interested in just mining the stuff for us:

Nationalizing industry

For Bolivians, economic development and job creation are a must — the partner can’t be like foreign companies who they say shortchanged the nation’s hardscrabble Indians while extracting copper, silver and tin from vegetation-starved highlands. Morales wants lithium batteries manufactured domestically, and even hopes to assemble battery-powered cars.

“We don’t even manufacture a pin here,” Mining Minister Freddy Beltran complained to The Associated Press. “It’s a story that must change.”

But Bolivia lacks the expertise to even begin to compete with Chile and Argentina, which together account for more than half the world’s 27,400 metric tons of annual lithium production. China and Australia also are major producers.

Since his 2005 election, Morales has secured for Bolivians the bulk of profits from their natural gas — South America’s second-largest known deposits after Venezuela’s. Now he sees lithium as a way to create an industrial economy.

“The state doesn’t see ever losing sovereignty over the lithium,” Morales told reporters. “Whoever wants to invest in it should be assured that the state must have control of 60 percent of the earnings.”

 

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