Bolivia has announced the opening of its first lithium carbonate production plant at the Salar de Uyuni, which lies in the Andean province of Potosi. The region is part of the Lithium Triangle, which also includes the lithium-rich salars of Chile and Argentina. The Uyuni salt flat is said to be the largest lithium reserve in the world.
The $19-million plant reportedly could start by producing 5,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate annually, with that amount rising to as much as 30,000 tonnes by 2016. Financial Times correspondent Andres Schipani points out that the latter amount is “almost equal to the current production of neighbouring Chile, the world's biggest lithium producer.”
The Bolivian government, under President Evo Morales, is set on developing a lithium industry in the country by developing its resources as well as domestic production of lithium-based batteries for electric cars, computers and portable electronic devices.The South American country expects to receive from China a $2.9-million pilot plant for manufacturing lithium-ion batteries in March this year, reported the Latino Daily News. The pilot plant, scheduled to commence production in the second half of 2013, will be a practice run for Bolivian technicians training to operate a future industrial-scale plant. Political risks will hinder development Bolivia's ambitious plans have faced heavy criticism from industry experts unwilling to believe that a poor country with a fiercely negative view toward foreign investment is capable of advancing a cost-intensive project that requires infrastructure and high-tech know-how. Jonathon Lee, battery materials and technologies analyst at Byron Capital Markets, told Lithium Investing News that he sees Bolivia's lithium carbonate plant as a “nice science project” that will have “very little significance for the supply/demand dynamics of the lithium industry in the short term or the even the medium term.”