Lithium : The new Salar’s resource ?

Uyuni village, Bolivia

Uyuni is a small town of 11 000 inhabitants located on 12 041 feet (3670 m) high plain in the Andes Cordillera.

Its dry climate makes water supplying very difficult. Agriculture cannot develop. Railway junction, the town is linked by road (paved or gravel) to Potosi and La Paz.

As a matter of fact, Uyuni is world known to be the largest salt desert in the world with an area of 4 826 square miles (12 500 km2).

It’s the source of vital economic activity for locals. Each year, 25 000 tons of salt are exploited and its lunar scenery brings 60 000 tourists.

The discovery of a lithium stock, estimated between 9 and 100 million tons by USA and bolivian experts, changed Salar status, making it even more attractive. Bolivia would have the biggest stock of lithium in the world, between 30 and 70 % (source rue89).

Economic challenges of the alkali metal are huge. It s an essential battery component for computers, mobile phones, tablets and watches but not only.

evaporation pool of Lithium

Evaporation pool of Lithium, Uyuni (Cecilia Mendoza)

Electric car batteries could be the main market for lithium.

Global companies have already showed interests in exploiting lithium.

Nevertheless, bolivian government, in reorganization process, wants to keep control of lithium business. They don’t want to make the same mistake as they made for the mines of Potosi. The National Office of Evaporite Resources is in charge of that project.

Shared between environmental issues, lithium business could damage the Salar of Uyuni’s ecosystem, and financial resources that could bring in such a business, the municipality of Uyuni has agreed with the project.

A pilot-factory is already running.

This natural resource is a good opportunity for the poorest country of South America to develop its economy.

Otherwise, bolivian State showed low level of skills in managing and running such projects.

With administrative delays and strong competition of Chili and Argentina (lithhium production), Bolivia is taking too long to make its business profitable. An industrial production is only foreseen for 2014. By then, alternative solutions could have been found.

In addition, this project requires a city-plan for Uyuni. Paved and gravel road constructions, houses and better access to water are Uyuni’s priorities.

Since july 2011, Uyuni has a new airport enabling domestic commercial flights but also international essentially from South America.

This 12 million dollars investment can be seen as a authentic State’s will to develop Uyuni’s new opportunities.

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