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Bolivia gives a boost to its lithium industry amid criticism of its goals

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Bolivia is working to give a new direction to the industrialization of lithium with tests for the direct extraction of the mineral and thus increase its production quotas, this due to the doubts of some analysts about the national goals or that an eventual regional alliance prospers to be inserted in the overall market.

The country has more than 21 million tons of lithium, one of the largest reserves in the world. The main one is in the Uyuni salt flat in the Andean region of Potosí, and to a lesser extent in the Pastos Grandes deposits, also from Potosí, and Coipasa, shared between the Bolivian department of Oruro and Chile.

According to official figures, in 2021 US$24.5 million were invested to reactivate projects for the exploitation of lithium, in addition, in that same year the country received more than US$27.4 million from the sale of lithium carbonate and magnesium chloride .

projections

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The Government of Luis Arce launched a research center in 2021 to develop technology to industrialize lithium and launched an international call for interested companies to test direct lithium extraction (EDL) technology in Bolivia.

According to the Executive, with this technology it will be possible to accelerate the lithium industrialization process, and to this is added the announcement of the start of operations of a lithium carbonate plant that will reach a production of 15,000 tons per year.

Bolivia expects that this center will increase the production capacity of the pilot plant for cathode materials for lithium batteries and those for cathodes, hydroxide, potassium chloride and other raw materials that are already being produced in the country.

In addition, a quantification of the resources in the Coipasa salt flat is currently being carried out, with which the Government hopes that the amount of Bolivian lithium reserves will increase.

The goal with these projects is to “have a new production quota” and “improve Bolivia’s position in the context of the lithium market,” the Bolivian Minister of Hydrocarbons and Energy, Franklin Molina, recently said.

However, Pablo Solón, a researcher who held various diplomatic positions during the Morales government, was less optimistic about the government’s goals and told Efe that “the progress (of industrialization) is very low in Bolivia.”

Solón gave as an example that the potassium chloride plant “has worked at 20% of its capacity since its creation in 2018 and that the lithium carbonate factory is almost four years behind schedule, in addition to the income generated “they are very low”.

lithium block

Mexico, which has one of the largest lithium deposits in the world, in addition to Argentina, with a significant share of this resource, push proposals to generate synergies in which Bolivia seeks to be a key player along with Chile and Peru, countries that in As a whole they share progressive and leftist ideas.

The economist and expert on the issue of lithium Pablo Poveda recalled in statements to Efe that the idea of ​​forming this type of block was raised in the first years of the government of then President Evo Morales (2006-2019) and that since then they have been registered many changes.

Poveda pointed out that the reality of the lithium market “does not follow the aspirations of progressive policies” and that “the raw material from the salt flats (Argentina, Chile and Bolivia) can be displaced by rock material that is much more appropriate. for production”.

The extraction of lithium through pools implies an “excessive cost and time”, in the Bolivian case it lasts up to 11 months, while the extraction of rock, which is practiced in China and Australia, takes less than 24 hours through chemical processes, assured.

In addition, he was pessimistic about the possibility that the formation of a regional bloc could affect the international costs of the metal, “prices are controlled in the production of batteries, not in the production of raw materials.”

For his part, Solón stated that Bolivia “has to be much more realistic” in its claims.

“Any regional strategy can help” for the exchange of experiences, but unlike Chile and Argentina, which are in the process of extracting lithium, Bolivia and Mexico still “do not exist” in world statistics.

In the first quarter of this year, Bolivia generated around US$18.6 million from the sale of lithium carbonate and potassium chloride, which already exceeded the income obtained in the first half of last year, which was US$11.6 million.

Source: Gestion

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