SALAR DE UYUNI, Bolivia — The mission was quixotic for a small Texas energy start-up: Beat out Chinese and Russian industrial giants in unlocking mineral riches that could one day power tens of millions of electric vehicles.
A team traveled from Austin to Bolivia in late August to meet with local and national leaders at a government lithium complex and convince them that the company, EnergyX, had a technology that would fulfill Bolivia’s potential to be a global green-energy power. On arriving, they found that the conference they had planned to attend was canceled and that security guards blocked the location.
Still, the real attraction was in plain sight: a giant chalky sea of brine high in the Andes called the Salar de Uyuni, which is rich in lithium, among several minerals with growing value worldwide because they are needed in batteries used in electric cars and on the power grid.
Surrounded by rusty equipment, empty production ponds and pumps uncoupled from pipes, it seemed a forlorn spot. But to Teague Egan, EnergyX’s chief executive, it had nothing but promise.
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