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In Bolivia, Untapped Bounty Meets Nationalism (lithium)
Simon Romero, New York Times
In the rush to build the next generation of hybrid or electric cars, a sobering fact confronts both automakers and governments seeking to lower their reliance on foreign oil: almost half of the world’s lithium, the mineral needed to power the vehicles, is found here in Bolivia — a country that may not be willing to surrender it so easily.
Japanese and European companies are busily trying to strike deals to tap the resource, but a nationalist sentiment about the lithium is building quickly in the government of President Evo Morales, an ardent critic of the United States who has already nationalized Bolivia’s oil and natural gas industries.
… “We know that Bolivia can become the Saudi Arabia of lithium,” said Francisco Quisbert, 64, the leader of Frutcas, a group of salt gatherers and quinoa farmers on the edge of Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat. “We are poor, but we are not stupid peasants. The lithium may be Bolivia’s, but it is also our property.”
… Demand for lithium, long used in small amounts in mood-stabilizing drugs and thermonuclear weapons, has climbed as makers of batteries for BlackBerrys and other electronic devices use the mineral. But the automotive industry holds the biggest untapped potential for lithium, analysts say. Since it weighs less than nickel, which is also used in batteries, it would allow electric cars to store more energy and be driven longer distances.
(2 February 2009)
To coin a phrase: “What is OUR lithium doing under THEIR altiplano desert?” -BA
Peak Lithium: Will Supply Fears Drive Alternative Batteries?
Keith Johnson, Environmental Capital (blog), Wall Street Journal
Saudis like to say that the stone age didn’t end for a lack of stones. But could a lack of lithium end the electric car age before it begins?
“Peak lithium” is back in focus, as the New York Times looks at Bolivia’s quest to cash in on the world’s biggest reserves of lithium, a key component in batteries. Simply put, global automakers and battery makers need to ensure a steady supply of lithium to power the expected electric-car revolution, but Bolivia’s populist government and its embrace of resource nationalism raises a lot of concerns about access to the country’s mineral wealth. TIME recently did a big takeout on Bolvia’s lithium, too.
Concerns about global supplies of lithium are a lot like the debate over peak oil. Some experts believe the huge increase in electric cars will actually strain the world’s lithium supplies in a few years; as with peak oil, “above-ground” factors like Bolivia’s politics may be just as critical as geology. Other experts figure lithium supplies are ample and exploding demand will just juice more lithium exploration, as happened with oil.
Either way, though, as hybrid and electric vehicles take a bigger share of the market, that threatens to push up lithium prices. That would make batteries, the costliest part of electric cars, even pricier, further threatening the economics of the electric-car revolution.
(3 February 2009)
Big Gav, Peak Energy
Excerpts and links for “peak lithium”
(7 February 2009)