CCTV [links below are from CNTV] and Dan Collyns report from Uyuni, Potosi – Bolivia:
Bolivia set to exploit vast lithium reserve
12-31-2011 08:00 BJT
Hidden underneath an enormous extinct salt lake in Bolivia lies the world’s biggest untapped supply of lithium. The country’s president Evo Morales has pledged the exploitation of the mineral will be a wholly state-owned venture. This renewable green energy resource could be used to power the potentially huge electric car market but it won’t be ready until 2015. Critics say Bolivia’s go-it-alone attitude is in danger of falling flat unless it speeds up its production of the mineral.
This endless expanse of white is more than just a dazzling natural phenomenon which attracts thousands of tourists. Underneath this thick crust of salt is more than half the world’s supply of lithium. Dissolved in a briny alphabet soup of minerals, Bolivia’s lithium could be the answer to the world’s present and future green energy needs. It’s a vital element in rechargeable batteries for Laptops, I-pods and smartphones; and now crucially for electric cars. And the Bolivian authorities say there could be 100s of millions of tons of it under the vast Salar de Uyuni.
But nearly four years after the beginning of Bolivia’s project to start exploiting the reserves, there’s mounting skepticism over the government’s ability to commercialize the multi-million dollar mineral.
Reporter: “This could hold the key to an environmentally sustainable future and the Bolivian President Evo Morales is resolute that this vast, untapped resource must benefit the Bolivian people. The question is how long will the nation have to wait?”
At this remote plant on the shore of the salt flat work has begun. These graduate students are figuring out how to produce this precious mineral on an industrial scale. Nearby lithium carbonate and potassium chloride, used for fertiliser, are extracted by evaporation. It’s a tough place to build what Bolivian officials hope will one day be the world’s biggest lithium plant. And lithium experts like Juan Carlos Zuleta wonder how much progress is actually being made.
Lithium expert Juan Carlos Zuleta said: “In order for the world to have an electric car era we need Bolivia. Bolivia has to enter the market in order for this to happen.”
He accuses politicians in Bolivia’s capital La Paz of incompetence and indifference. But Guillame Roelants, the scientific head of the country’s lithium project, says all is going according to plan and there’s no rush.
Guillame Roelants said: “The lithium reserves in the Salar de Uyuni are the biggest in the world…more than 70 % of the world’s reserves that have been explored until now. This project as an industry is to supply lithium worldwide for hundreds or maybe thousands of years – so another quiet month is not a big problem.”
Bolivia is still the poorest country in South America despite centuries of mineral exploitation; it even had the world’s biggest silver mine. Its people are wary of foreigners stealing their country’s natural bounty. So while thousands of backpackers are being welcomed to gaze at the 10,000 sq kilometer salt flat, foreign companies are not being invited ; at least not yet.
Bolivian vice minister of Mines Freddy Beltran said: “In due course we will form alliances with companies or countries which are interested in clean energy production. Our project allows for such a possibility because obviously there’s a big gap, a long road which Bolivia will have to walk in terms of technology to equal that of first world countries.”
Freddy Beltran, Bolivia’s vice minister of mines, says China, South Korea, Japan and France are just some of the countries queuing up to work with Bolivia. But first Bolivia wants to ensure that THIS TIME around IT will benefit from ITS tremendous mineral wealth. For now it seems to be in no hurry to exploit this extraordinary gift.
To watch the video news from CCTV [CNTV], please use this link:
The word of caution would be not to waste again the opportunity to grab a solid enterprise agreement, years back the Potosi Civic Committee pushed against signing a contract with Lithium Corp., not only did that company left to seek other reserves but other companies as well ended up in the Salar Muerto in Argentina.
It is of no use to us, to have huge resources of lithium in the Salar de Uyuni or iron in El Mutun; this government which is openly declared as communist, socialist, indigenous and anti-imperialism, could learn from the Chinese or Vietnam about how to sign contracts with larger multinational companies which are efficient at signing long-term contracts with appropriate industries worldwide.