LA PAZ – Bolivian President Evo Morales’ government plans to invest $450 million in a project to produce lithium carbonate and potassium chloride on a large scale, the head of the evaporitic resources office of the Comibol state mining corporation said.
Luis Alberto Echazu, the former mining minister, told Efe Thursday that his office needs that total to fulfill its goal of producing 30,000 tons of lithium carbonate and 700,000 tons of potassium chloride annually within three or four years.
Lithium carbonate is the main component in rechargeable batteries that power electronic devices and electric and hybrid vehicles, while potassium chloride is mainly used in the production of fertilizers.
Morales’ administration says the Uyuni Salt Flats – a dried-up sea bed that is located in the Andean high plains of southwestern Bolivia – hold some 100 million tons of lithium, although other estimates, including one by the U.S. Geological Survey, indicate reserves of just 9 million tons.
Bolivia, the poorest country in South America, is aspiring to become a major energy player by providing the lithium needed by the growing electric car industry.
Echazu said he will request the $450 million sum from the government in the coming days and expects to have the money by 2011 to kick off the process of developing those evaporitic resources.
He said a pilot plant will be launched over the next “five or six months” to produce 1,000 tons per month of potassium chloride and 40 tons per month of lithium carbonate “three months later.”
The official acknowledged some delays in the original plans to launch the pilot plant, citing reasons such as “lack of experience” and problems stemming from having to build infrastructure in a near-desert area such as Uyuni.
Companies from Asia and Europe are waiting for the Bolivian government to determine its plans for partnering with multinational companies on the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles.
That decision, according to Echazu, will occur in 2011 as opposed to 2014 as initially planned. EFE