Lithium's Prognosis in 2009
By EV World
Six months ago, few people knew the strategic position in which Bolivia now finds itself as the race to develop electric-drive cars gathers momentum. Culturally-rich and blessed with enormous mineral resources, Bolivia has suffered under centuries of misrule and mismanagement.
From the Spanish conquistadors to Shell Oil, the country has seen its wealth exploited and expropriated by outsiders, including its own neighbors. The government of Evo Morales has decreed that, henceforth, the nation's natural resources will be used to benefit the Bolivian people first, including -- someday -- the production of electric car batteries.
But Morales' plans are off to a hesitant start, reports Juan Carlos Zuleta, who grew up in the mineral salt-rich Salar de Uyuni region where government has begun construction of a pilot lithium carbonate extraction plant. Cold weather and inexperience have slowed completion of the plant, began last summer. Eventually, the plant will produce 20,000 tons of lithium carbonate annually, the key element in lithium-based advanced automotive traction batteries. It is lithium batteries that carmakers large and small plan to use to power the plug-in cars of the next decade.
While President Morales dreams of becoming a "Saudi Arabia" of lithium -- estimates place the country's reserves at half of the world's total -- other, more experienced producers are equally confident they will be able to meet global demand for their product. That's the consensus of the Lithium Markets conference held in Santiago, Chile late last month, at which Zuleta -- who contributes regularly to EV World -- presented a paper.
Senor Zuleta isn't quite as sanguine.
In this 30-minute interview from his home in La Paz, he talks about the conference, his trip to Chile's Salar De Atacama and the prospects for Bolivia becoming a key player in the lithium carbonate market.