Thursday, January 28, 2010

New Higher Lithium Reserves Estimate

On January 27th Bolivia's Director of Natural Evaporative Resources Saúl Villegas announced that he believes that Bolivia's actual lithium reserves are two times larger than
previously thought according the government controlled media outlet ABI. A United States Geological Survey had estimated Bolivia's reserves located in the delicate Southeast region of the Uyuni Salt Flats at around 9 million tons, more than 50% of the world's reserves and if Villegas' estimate is correct then Bolivia would have a far larger share than 50%. Villegas said to the press, "After the first studies and epxloration work we did in 2009 we can assure that Bolivia has the world's largest lithium reserves and we easily doubled the figure given by earlier studies. We are talking about 50% of the worldwide reserves."

Villegas went on to say, "Within this integrated project our goal is to produce lithium-carbonate but in the interim we have to extract another rich resource, we have to take advantage of it, within the process of evaporation of salts that crystalize there are salts that contain potassium, that's why it's much easier to rapidly produce potassium than lithium".  Villegas explained that negotiations are under way with Bolivia's state oil company YPFB to construct a gas pipeline to supply future processing plants that will be built in Uyuni.  "There will be four plants that will need 170 cubic meters of gas per day, one central plant, and another treatment plant where they will obtain lithium-carbonate, boric acid, chloride and potassium sulfate. There will be another chloride-sodium plant and another of sodium carbonate and a another lime processing plant and another plant of borax deca-hydrate."

Bolivia is currently constructing a 6 million dollar lithium refining plant but plans are afoot to build the various plants that Villegas mentioned. The construction of these plants is in the planning stages and an investment of $400 million dollars is projected to be completed by 2014. Bolivia's President Evo Morales envisions refining the lithium on-site and building a battery production plant and perhaps even an electric vehicle manufacturing plant as well in the distant future.

Uyuni's lithium cannot be processed with existing technology in Bolivia because although the salty brine is extremely rich in lithium it also contains other chemicals that make extraction difficult. Even once Bolivian engineers can extract and process the lithium, transportation of the mineral will also be a logistical challenge from this remote mountainous region at 12,000 feet above sea level.

The Uyuni Salt Flats are the largest in the world and are Bolivia's number one tourist attraction with over on hundred thousand visitors per year and no studies have been published on the impacts of this massive proposed manufacturing and mining operation on the tourism industry or Uyuni's fragile ecosystem which is supposedly protected by the Eduardo Avaroa National Park. Lithium is a key component of lithium-ion batteries now in high demand to power everything from iphones to the Toyota Prius.

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