| LA PAZ
LA PAZ Oct 31 Bolivia is optimistic it will
develop a large-scale lithium industry at the Uyuni salt lake
single-handedly by 2014, even though the country has never
produced lithium, its mining minister said.
Bolivia, one of the poorest countries in Latin America,
recently said it would invest up to $500 million to build a
plant to produce lithium carbonate at Uyuni, believed to be one
of the world's largest lithium deposits.
Bolivia has around 50 percent of the world's lithium, about
5.4 million tonnes, but it does not mine the metal -- unlike
neighboring Chile and Argentina, which also hold big reserves.
After negotiating with companies including France's Bollore
(BOLL.PA), South Korea's LG (051910.KS), and Japan's Sumitomo
(4005.T) and Mitsubishi Corp (8058.T), Bolivia's leftist
government decided to develop a lithium industry in Uyuni by
itself because the firms did not offer to manufacture lithium
batteries in the landlocked South American country.
"We know there are obstacles ... (but) we're optimistic
we'll have a large lithium plant on target (by 2014)," Mining
Minister Luis Alberto Echazu told reporters late on Friday
after a summit of lithium experts in La Paz.
Lithium carbonate is the main component of the rechargeable
batteries that power portable electronic devices. Demand for
the metal could soar if car makers raise production of hybrid
cars or start large-scale manufacturing of electric vehicles.
According to the government, the plant will produce up to
30,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate a year, which represents
around 30 percent of the current global supply.
Speaking at the same lithium summit in La Paz, the
government's mining director, Freddy Beltran, told Reuters the
government also will need to invest up to $500 million in the
area to build roads, a natural gas pipeline and water and power
He said companies like Japan's Sumitomo and Mitsubishi, and
South Korea's state-run Kores, are helping the government find
the best way to extract lithium from Uyuni "free of charge,"
but will be the preferential buyers of Bolivia's lithium
Although Uyuni, in the central Potosi region, may hold the
largest reserves of lithium in the world, analysts have
questioned the quality of the deposit and have said the high
degree of magnesium in the brine of the salt lake could make
lithium recovery expensive.
Moreover, the lake floods every year, which may lower the
efficiency of solar evaporation ponds from which lithium is
Leftist President Evo Morales has nationalized energy and
mining companies and has long said that the Andean country's
natural resources should be controlled by the state and not
His policies to tighten control over the economy are very
popular among the majority poor, who blame foreign investors
for ransacking the country's mineral and energy riches.
(Additional reporting by Diego Ore; Writing by Eduardo
Garcia; Editing by Will Dunham)