Bolivia's Lithium Mining Boom  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

The SMH has a look at the Bolivian lithium mining boom - The open veins of Bolivia's lithium powering the world.

On a clear day and from afar, Salar de Uyuni looks like a colossal mirage. From up close, it looks nothing less than a miracle. But it may not remain that way for long.

Along the salt lake's southern rim, industrial machines roar. Hundreds of heavy trucks are coming and going over the salty crust, wheezing like exhausted beasts, some 40 years old. Diesel fumes permeate the crisp mountain air. In their wake, the trucks leave perfect brown lines in the virginal whiteness, making the lake's scores of square kilometres look like a giant bowl of cafe latte. The workers are drilling the salt with humungous rigs, aiming for the brine beneath. Lodged under enormous quantities of magnesium and potassium lies their goal: lithium, the essential power source for all the world's gadgets, the key component to fuel the entire 21st century.

While these quantities may seem negligible in the wider scheme of things, the depths under the world's largest salt flats are claimed to contain the world's largest lithium reserves. According to some estimates, the Bolivian Andes harbour 70 per cent of the planet's lithium.

A number of studies have been done to corroborate these claims. According to the most optimistic one, as many as 140 million tons of lithium may be available in Salar de Uyuni, while the most pessimistic (US Geological Survey) foretells 'merely' nine million tons. Vast quantities of lithium have also been detected at the bottom of the world's oceans. Little wonder then that the mining industry, one of the planet's most toxic enterprises, is already turning its gaze downward into the seas. ...

The Bolivian market is opening and is attracting the attention of the Japanese, Germans, Swedes, French, Swiss, Koreans and Canadians. Sources say the American electrics giant Tesla also wants in on the action. The battery for Tesla's Model S requires as many as 63 kilograms of lithium carbonate, which is enough to power approximately 10,000 cell phone batteries.

In a recent report, the Goldman Sachs investment bank has called lithium carbonate the new gasoline. Eight years from now, the world's yearly demand is expected to total 470,000 tons. A 1 per cent increase in electric vehicle production could increase lithium demand by more than 40 per cent of current global production, the report boldly states.

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