Business & Economy

Bolivia renews push to industrialize lithium

La Paz, Apr 30 (EFE).- The Bolivian government launched on Friday a request for proposals from companies interested in being part of industrializing the Andean nation’s vast reserves of lithium, the main component of the rechargeable batteries that power laptop computers, cell phones and electric vehicles.

President Luis Arce and Energy Minister Franklin Molina announced the tender at an event in La Paz that included presentations by representatives of Russian, Chinese and US firms that specialize in the technique known as direct lithium extraction.

Molina said that the process consists of separating lithium “from ions of potassium, sodium, calcium, magnesium and sulfates” found in the brine of the Uyuni salt flat, the dried-up sea bed in the southwestern region of Potosi that holds most of Bolivia’s 21 million tons of lithium.

Use of direct extraction technologies will enable “a substantial advance” in the production process while reducing the negative environmental impact, the minister said.

Arce said the industrialization of lithium is a priority for his administration and vowed to reactivate projects put on hold for more than a year by the “interim government” that ruled Bolivia after the army and police forced-then President Evo Morales to resign and flee the country in November 2019.

The introduction of direct extraction will “accelerate” Bolivia’s inclusion in the global lithium industry, the president said.

“We have lost time and we must recover. And that recovery obliges us to improve the technology to get quicker results,” Arce said.

Morales, in whose leftist government Arce served as economy minister, insisted on the need for Bolivia to build value-added industries on resources such as natural gas and lithium to move away from the model of relying on exports of raw commodities.

In the case of lithium, Morales sought foreign partners to establish battery factories in Bolivia.

Arce said Friday that the right-wing interim government harbored “clear intentions” to hand over Bolivia’s resources to multinational corporations.

Morales has said repeatedly that a desire to gain control of Bolivia’s lithium was a key motive for foreign interests who encouraged and applauded his ouster.

Last year, on his return to Bolivia after 12 months in exile, Morales pointed to a July 2020 Twitter exchange involving Elon Musk, the billionaire CEO of American electric car manufacturer Tesla.

A Twitter user who took exception to Musk’s contention that a second massive US coronavirus stimulus would not be in the public interest said the real blow to the interests of ordinary people was Washington’s “organizing a coup against Evo Morales in Bolivia so you could obtain the lithium there.”

“We will coup whoever we want! Deal with it,” the mogul fired back.

“Tesla’s owner says he financed the coup just for the lithium. There’s a lot of concern in the United States over lithium, and this coup was for lithium. They don’t want us to add value to lithium as a state. They always want our resources to be in the hands of the multinationals,” Morales said last November. EFE gb/dr

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