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Bolivia picks consortium including Chinese firm to develop its untapped lithium reserves

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The Bolivian government has picked a consortium including Chinese battery giant CATL to develop its largely untapped lithium reserves. A report by the news agency Reuters on Friday (January 20) said the deal would see the consortium partner direct lithium extraction from Bolivia’s Uyuni and Oruro salt flats. The partnership would give the CBC consortium the rights to develop two lithium plants which can produce up to 25,000 tonnes of battery-grade lithium carbonate each annually. 

China’s CATL specialises in manufacturing lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles (EV) and energy storage systems but it does not produce lithium at present though it has invested in many Chinese projects. The report said that two years back, the company lost the bid to buy the Millenial Lithium Corp. 

Speaking on Friday’s deal, Bolivian President Luis Arce said that the CBC consortium would invest more than $1 billion in the project’s first stage to boost infrastructure, roads and conditions required to start the lithium plants the country hopes will one day produce lithium cathodes and batteries.

“CBC will make an investment of more than one billion dollars in the first stage. One billion dollars that will help improve electric energy at the places where it will be established, roads, basic services, conditions for the constructions of the plants that will produce the lithium cathodes and batteries,” he said. 

“Today begins the era of industrialisation of Bolivian lithium,” Arce said, adding there was no time to lose in developing the metal. The president also said that talks were ongoing for potential partnerships with other foreign firms. 

Bolivia’s energy minister Franklin Molina, meanwhile, said the deal showed there were “sovereign alternatives to the privatisation models of lithium exploitation.” State firm YLB is set to supervise and play a central part in the project. 

As per the US Geological Survey, Bolivia’s salt flats are home to the world’s largest lithium resources at 21 million tonnes. However, the country has almost no industrial production or commercially viable reserves. The report added that the partnership with the CBC consortium could help finally unlock Bolivia’s huge potential as a supplier of lithium for batteries needed to power the global shift to electric vehicles. 

Source : Wio News