Lithium’s great story: 80 years in the making – by Robin Bromby ( – April 29, 2016)

This is not the first time people have been excited by lithium.

The great mass of the investing public has only been on top of the lithium story for little more than a year yet the story has been there for some time, in one form or another. In 2009, for example, Foreign Policy journal, in an article by David J Rothkoff, had a headline reading “The Great Lithium Game”.

He began: “In Asia, Europe, and the United States, people are getting excited by the electric car – for good reason”. He went on to argue that the ”major fly in the ointment for the electric car is the battery”. Seven years ago there was just starting to be interest in the concept of the lithium-ion battery, then being used in cameras, cellphones and computers, as the solution to electric car storage.

Rothkoff got is right in predicting that lithium was likely to be the commodity in the years immediately ahead. He also raised another interesting point, and one that is becoming a very live issue right now.

At that stage, it was estimated that three-quarters of the world’s known lithium reserves were located in the Atacama Desert, a region shared by Chile and Bolivia. Chile, by its defeat of Bolivia in the War of the Pacific that raged between 1879 and 1883, ended up grabbing the chunk of Bolivia that sat on the Pacific coastline (making Bolivia a landlocked nation), and that lost territory is host to a great deal of lithium.

So it is interesting that last year the International Court of Justice ruled it can hear Bolivia’s case for the return of its access to the sea, and that case is expected to last between one or years before there’s an ICJ decision (although whether Chile would abide by an unfavourable ruling would have to be seen).

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