The Bolivian government aims to pump massive investments to expand the country’s production of lithium, a metal needed for the batteries that power everything from smartphones and laptops to hybrid and electric cars.
In a future battery-powered world, lithium may replace oil and emerge as one of the most important commodities on earth. That prospect is driving Bolivia, which is considered to have the largest reserves of the metal, to keep lithium under strict state control.
Bolivian President Evo Morales sees a prosperous future for his currently impoverished South American nation, pinning his hopes on the rapid rise in the global price of this valuable resource. “We will develop a huge lithium industry, over $800 million have already been made available,” Morales told the German DPA news agency.
Lithium, the lightest of all metals, is the key ingredient in lithium-ion batteries, which are currently the best available technology for powering a range of products, including mobile phones and e-cars.
Lithium-ion battery production is forecast to double to eight billion cells by 2025. And the world price for lithium carbonate has almost doubled in a short span of time to about $13,000 per ton. This has pushed a number of firms across the world to try to get hold of lithium supplies.
Salt flats in the highlands of Bolivia are thought to hold millions of tons of untapped lithium reserves. According to the US Geological Survey, the Salar de Uyuni salt flats in the country alone contain nine million tons of lithium, over a quarter of the world’s known reserves. In total, Bolivia is estimated to possess about half of the world’s lithium.
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