April 21, 2009 / 8:03 PM / 10 years ago

France's Bollore opens talks over Bolivia's lithium

LA PAZ, April 21 (Reuters) - Bolivian mining officials have opened talks with French conglomerate the Bollore Group, which is vying for a contract to mine lithium at the Uyuni salt flat, President Evo Morales said on Tuesday.

Half of the world’s lithium reserves lie in the Andean country and the largest deposit in the Andean country is in Uyuni, the biggest salt lake on earth and a major tourist attraction.

“We met with representatives of Bollore. The company and the mining minister are going to start negotiating, but we don’t have an agreement yet,” Morales told reporters.

South Korea’s LG Group (066570.KS) and Japan’s Mitsubishi Motors Corp (7211.T) are also in a race to tap Uyuni’s riches.

Lithium is used to produce rechargeable batteries for cell phones, laptops and digital cameras, but demand for the metal could rocket in the next few years if carmakers start producing electric vehicles on a large scale. [nLR152958]

The Bollore Group (BOLL.PA) has developed a lithium battery that can power an electric car at a speed of up to 77 miles per hour (125 km/hr) with a range of 155 miles (250 km).

It has a joint venture with Italian carmaker Pininfarina for the production of electric cars.

Bolivia has said the Uyuni contract will be awarded to the company that presents a proposal that involves developing Bolivian industry and not just mining.

“The government of Bolivia will never give away control of this natural resource,” said Morales, who has nationalized energy, mining and telecommunications companies since taking office in early 2006.

He has suggested that the bidders should consider offering to build electric cars in the impoverished country. (Reporting by Eduardo Garcia; Editing by Christian Wiessner)

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