Bolivia to Become the World's Supplier for Lithium Car Batteries

Whether they like it or not, the United States might depend on Bolivia in the near future. No, it's not a historical turn-over, rather a dependence based on raw materials needed to build... electric cars.

A recent article published in The Time shows that Bolivia is the perfect supplier for lithium carbonate highly needed to produce batteries for electric vehicles. It seems that a country where electric cars are non-existent for the moment has no less than 73 million metric tons of lithium carbonate which is more than half the world's supply. As a matter of fact, the largest deposit is to be found at the Salar de Uyuni, a vast 4,085-square-mile (6,575-sq-km) salt desert in the southern Potosi region.

At first sight, this should seem like lottery-ticket: Bolivia is poor, the US is rich, the transaction should be easy. Only that the Bolivian president Evo Morales is not what we could call a fan of Uncle Sam. In fact, Bolivian politicians seem to be fully aware of this unique possibility to take their country into the limelight.

"This is a unique opportunity for us," says Bolivian Mining Minister Luis Alberto Echazu. "The days of U.S. car companies buying cheap raw materials to sell expensive cars are over."

More importantly, Morales has recently announced a $5.7 million pilot plant to process raw lithium carbonate which is now under construction on the edge of the Salar, which is expected to produce its first 40 metric tons of the material by the end of this year.

As we already reported, GM is also planning to build a plant soon and a battery research center within the University of Michigan. Toyota is already a majority owner of the plant that makes the batteries for its Prius gas-electric hybrid car.

Now the main concern is whether Bolivia is going to have any contribution to the price of electric car which it is supposed to increase by $10,000. However, a key factor will be the demand for electric cars in the future.

“It is difficult to predict just how many electric vehicles we will see in the market," says Jennifer Moore, a spokeswoman for Ford.

Nevertheless, automakers shouldn't panic because of Bolivian president's reaction. Or at least this is what Bolivia analyst Erasto Almedia of the political risk consulting firm Eurasia Group claims. His president might be playing a “big nationalist game” but he will eventually accept foreign investment and technological support.
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