LA PAZ – The Bolivian government has signed a contract with China’s CAMC Engineering Co. for the construction of a $178 million potassium salts plant in the Uyuni Salt Flat, located in the Andean province of Potosi.
Bolivian Mining Corporation, or Comilbol, executive and former Mining Minister Luis Alberto Echazu and a CAMC Engineering representative signed the agreement on Monday at a ceremony in Potosi attended by President Evo Morales.
The agreement will help move Bolivia from the pilot phase to the industrialization of the lithium deposits, Morales said.
The potassium salts project is “very complex” because the plant will be built nearly in the center of the salt flat “some 30 kilometers (about 19 miles) from solid land,” Echazu said.
CAMC Engineering Co. has until late 2018 to complete the plant, which will have an initial production capacity of 350,000 tons of potassium salts annually.
Potassium salt has a number of uses, including as a dietary supplement.
The Uyuni Salt Flat, a dried-up sea bed that stretches over a more than 10,000-sq.-kilometer (some 4,000-sq.-mile) area, is the world’s largest reserve of lithium, the planet’s lightest metal.
Lithium-ion batteries are used to power a range of electronic devices, including cellphones, laptops and digital audio players.
The Bolivian government says the salt flat contains 100 million tons of lithium reserves, although the U.S. Geological Survey puts the figure at just 9 million tons.