Bolivia takes production of lithium into own hands

The government of Bolivia will spend 358 million euros (500 million US dollars) during the four coming years for the exploitation of the country’s lithium reserves. So far the decision has not been made public.
Lithium is set to become the resource par excellence for the production of batteries for electric vehicles. Chili and Argentina are on top of the list of lithium producing countries. But Bolivia has the largest unexploited reserves.
In 2008 the government of president Morales decided to keep the exploitation of these reserves in the hands of the Bolivian state, late September 2010 a budget has been attributed to the necessary investments. Morales communicated his decision personnaly to the direction of the Gerencia de Recursos Evaporíticos (GERE), the public agency in charge of the development of the lithium project, the directie of this agency  confirmed to us.
At his moment, GERE is finalising the first installations for the production of lithium carbonate from the salt water of the lake of Uyuni (locally known as the Salar de Uyuni) in South Bolivia. In a later stage, lithium carbonate can be used batteries for electric vehicles.
Since 2009 several multinational companies have been trying to obtain concessions in the Salar de Uyuni from the Bolivian state. Initially, mainly the Bolloré group from France and Sumitomo from Japan were active to this effect. These past months Sumitomo in alliance with Mitsubishi and the Japanese public agency Jogmec has renewed its application for concessions. The industrial groups Kores from South-Korea and Citic Guoan from China have approaches Bolivia with similar proposals.
But despite these proposals, Bolivia maintains its option to keep the first phase of the lithium-project (up to the production of lithium-carbonate) entirely under the control of the state. This has been formally confirmed to us in La Paz by Luis Alberto Echazù, the director of the Gerencia de Recursos Evaporíticos.
Next year the industrial project of the Bolivian state will further expand, whith the construction of a plant that will produce potash from the salt lake of Uyuni. Potash is a primary resource for the fertilizer production. Bolivia will spend some 92 million euro (128 million US dollar) for this plant.
At the end of 2014 all the installations combined should produce 30.000 Tons of lithium-carbonate and 700.000 Tons of potash annually. According to mr Echazù Bolivia expects multinational companies to set up Joint Ventures with the Bolivian state in a later stage. These mixed companies may then a.o. produce batteries for electric vehicles from Bolivia’s lithium-carbonate.
Investigation with the support of the Fonds Pascal Decroos and GRESEA. A full report on Bolivia’s lithium production and the Belgian connection will be published in a next edition of MO*.

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