German industry hopes to lift Bolivia’s lithium treasure – by Franz Viohl (Deutsche Welle – November 12, 2020)

The glory days of the mines in Bolivia’s Cerro Rico (Rich Mountain) region are long gone. The only ones left digging for the silver that gave the mountain its name are a few children from the nearby city of Potosi.

Situated on a cold and barren plateau at the foot of Cerro Rico, Potosi is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site and ranks as one of the world’s highest cities at an altitude of 4,050 meters (13,290 feet). In its city center you can find a number of colonial-style buildings, including a museum of local history that depicts the plight of Bolivian miners past and present.

Centuries of mining for silver, tin and copper at Cerro Rico, however, have made only others rich, the locals say. They quip that the silver extracted by the country’s former Spanish rulers alone would have been enough “to build a bridge from Bolivia to Europe.”

The lithium treasure

While Potosi’s silver deposits are nearly exhausted, another treasure not far away has caught the attention of Bolivia’s government and mining companies worldwide: lithium.

Underneath the Salar de Uyuni — the largest salt flat on earth stretching for over 10,000 square kilometers (3,900 square miles) — lies the world’s largest single deposit of the raw material. The 20 million tons of lithium estimated to be won from the deposit are urgently needed to satisfy growing battery demand from electric carmakers worldwide.

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