UYUNI, Bolivia (Reuters) – Bolivia hopes surging global lithium demand can lure foreign investors to the country where nearly a decade of state-led development has left output far short of goals for the metal, coveted by makers of batteries for devices from laptops to electric cars.
The poor South American nation boasts nearly a quarter of the world’s known resources of the world’s lightest metal. Still, production lags far behind neighboring Chile and Argentina. Bolivia hopes to sign a deal with at least one foreign partner to invest up to $750 million in factories to meet rising demand from China and other countries for lithium-ion batteries.
The country is eager to cash in on tightening supplies of lithium. Experts say spot prices have more than doubled to around $25,000 per ton from below $10,000 in 2015.
Rain and other natural challenges, along with execution hiccups, have hampered state-run operations. Foreign companies with more expertise may be spooked by the left-leaning government of President Evo Morales, whose interventionist policies in other sectors have riled some big corporations and made others hesitant to invest, analysts said.
Bolivia had hoped its project at Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat, would produce 40 tonnes per month of lithium carbonate by 2011. Nine years and $450 million into the project, it is producing just 10 tonnes per month.