Business & Economy

Bolivia signs lithium deals with Chinese, Russian firms

La Paz, Jun 29 (EFE).- President Luis Arce’s government signed contracts Thursday with China’s CITIC Guoan and Russia-based Uranium One Group to exploit Bolivia’s lithium reserves using a technique known as Direct Lithium Extraction (DLE).

The latest deals, together representing an investment of $1.4 billion, follow an accord signed months ago with Chinese consortium CBC.

“Between January and June of this year Bolivia has signed agreements for $2.8 billion for the industrialization of lithium,” Arce said during a ceremony in La Paz.

The Bolivian economy “cannot depend on a single product,” the president said, alluding to natural gas, which has been the main driver of growth in the Andean nation for several decades.

Besides the Chinese and Russian companies, state-owned Yacimientos de Litio Bolivianos (YLB) is also involved in developing the country’s vast deposits of the white metal vital to the world’s efforts to shift away from fossil fuels.

Bolivia’s minister of Hydrocarbons and Energy, Franklin Molina, said that officials began investigating DLE in 2021 and the first step toward applying it in the Andean nation was the contract with CBC.

He used the word “transcendental” to describe the pacts signed Thursday with CITIC Guoan, “leader in the management of DLE technology with manufacture of batteries and electric automobiles,” and Uranium One Group, which has “70 years of experience in processing lithium.”

The latest deals call for the construction of two DLE processing plants near the largest lithium deposits in the Uyuni Salt Flat and Pastos Grandes, both in the province of Potosi.

Those facilities will produce at least 45,000 tons of lithium carbonate a year, Molina said, adding that the government wants to achieve overall annual output of 100,000 tons of battery-grade lithium carbonate by 2025.

DLE, which uses a highly selective absorbent to extract lithium from brine water, “has the potential to significantly increase the supply of lithium from brine projects (much like shale did for oil),” investment bank Goldman Sachs said in a report published in April.

Bolivia, which has an estimated 21 million tons of lithium, is seeking to coordinate with neighboring Chile, Argentina, and Peru – also with substantial reserves – to develop the resource in a way that benefits the regional economy. EFE gb/dr

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