Chile, Argentina and Bolivia all have large reserves of the metal, but will it just be a commodity for export or can these countries add value to their raw material by developing a national industry?
CGTN’s Joel Richards has this report from the Lithium Triangle.
Centuries ago, Potosi was one of the wealthiest cities in the world, after silver was discovered in what came to be called ‘Rich Mountain.’ Now, just outside the colonial city, Bolivia is working to create its own own national industry to profit from the new commodity boom of lithium.
Lithium is an important metal in batteries. It’s expected to be increasingly valuable in the growing electric vehicle market.
A Pilot Project plant just outside Potosi has been running small scale production of cathodes and batteries since 2008.
“The pilot project aims to test the conditions required for a solid assembly process, we are working on different cathodes with Bolivian materials,” Tito Churqui, the pilot project manager said.
The products made at the plant use lithium extracted from the nearby Uyuni salt flat, one of the largest reserves of the metal in the world.
Researchers said the large lithium reserves help boost the value of the metal when making batteries. Few countries have the capacity to do this on an industrial scale. Bolivia has faced many problems in trying to do so.
“In the imaginary, there is an idea that is founded in Potosi experience, the idea that wealth was taken abroad, that the silver from Potosi left Bolivia and it was never used for the benefit of the country,” Editor of Lithium Geopolitics Bruno Fornillo said.
Bolivia is looking for foreign investors to boost development of lithium. By law, the government holds a controlling interest, and outside companies are wary about making investments.
Chile has major reserves of high-quality lithium in the Atacama Salt Flat. A booming solar energy industry provides cheap electricity and large amounts of cobalt. The National Development Agency hopes to enter the electric vehicle market by making cathodes, a component for batteries, and has called for bids to industrialize lithium.