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Lithium Economics

Nuclear Fusion

The news that a 13 year old boy from England was able to build a nuclear fusion reactor at his school brought to my attention one of the most promising applications of lithium in the years to come.

It is indeed an indication that as of today we seem to be approaching much quicker than most people would have believed just a few years ago to a new efficient way to generate an almost unlimited amount of energy that could in essence change the world, just as Jamie Edwards so eloquently sustains in a You Tube video (See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ppJ5TB2-MUQ) capturing a superb interview by David Letterman.

No doubt this is the most astonishing message I have ever heard from someone of that age but there is a bit more to this fascinating story.

It has been more than 21 years since I came across this topic for the first time. By then I observed there was a delay in the process of construction of the first nuclear fusion reactor in France by the world’s most important superpowers.

This finding, together with GM’s decision in December 1992 to postpone indefinitely the launching of the first mass produced (“Impact”) electric vehicles (EVs), led me to conclude that there would be a “technological lag” in the world that would last between 20 and 30 years, during which the demand for lithium would grow only moderately.

This explained why FMC Corporation couldn’t accept the amendments (calling for more favorable terms for Bolivia) by the Bolivian Congress in July 1992 to a contract already signed with the Bolivian government five months earlier to exploit the 10% richest lithium reserves at Salar de Uyuni and finally abandoned the country on January 15, 1993.

The rest is history. First, the nuclear reactor in France is still being built and now the scientists in charge of that project are saying that we will need to wait until 2019 to have the first demo results.

Second, GM did in fact launched in December 1996 its first mass produced EV, called then EV1, but only 6-7 years later completely discontinued and took it off the market; in addition, the EV1 never used lithium batteries but lead and nickel ones.

Third, FM Corporation opted for a much smaller lithium operation at Salar del Hombre Muerto in Argentina where it has since been producing a rather limited amount of lithium carbonate.

Fourth, after GM’s announcement in January 2007 that it would introduce by 2010 the first mass-produced plug-in hybrid electric vehicle into the market, we would witness the end of the technological lag I hypothesized 14 years earlier.

And fifth, as I argued in a series of recent articles published on Seeking Alpha, with its announcement that by 2020 it will begin producing half a million all-electric cars with Li-ion batteries, Tesla Motors has in fact begun to make a difference in the global automotive industry giving this time a new and perhaps last chance to lithium, that seems much less scarce today than 6-7 years ago, and Bolivia, that has since been struggling to enter the lithium market, to be part of a new way of doing things in the world.

It then appears that, contrary to a previous presumption of mine, we may still start thinking over again about the inauguration of the lithium era I envisaged in my second blog published here in January 2008.

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