Monday, December 07, 2009

Bolivia's New Old Drug -- Lithium

Despite the belief that Lithium from Bolivia will fund the prosperity that has by-passed this nation since the dawn of time, prosperity will remain out of reach. However, when the psychological depression of this realization hits hardest, the pharmaceutical companies that produce lithium-based drugs to ease the emotional impact of more bad luck will be available. The country will undoubtedly remain in an economic depression. But it might escape the psychological pit of despair.

Meanwhile, to suggest that Bolivia might become the Saudi Arabia of Lithium is to suggest that many undesirable changes will result from the windfall many expect from selling Lithium to the world's battery makers.

Lithium for 4.8 Billion Electric Cars Lets Bolivia Upset Market

Dec. 7 -- The wind whips across a 3,900-square- mile expanse of salt on a desert plateau in Bolivia’s Andes Mountains. Plastic washtubs filled with an emerald-colored liquid rich in lithium dot the Uyuni Salt Flat, all the way to the volcanoes on the horizon.

Waist-high slabs of salt are piled around a pond that’s shimmering in the sun. Francisco Quisbert, an Indian peasant leader known as Comrade Lithium, sits inside a crumbling adobe building on the edge of the desert. He’s explaining how Bolivia, South America’s second-poorest country, will supply the world with lithium, which will be used in batteries that power electric cars.

“We have this dream,” Quisbert, 65, says. “Lithium could bring us prosperity.”

The world’s largest untapped lithium reserve -- containing enough of the lightest metal to make batteries for more than 4.8 billion electric cars -- sits just below Quisbert’s feet, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The automobile industry plans to introduce dozens of electric models with lithium batteries in the next three years. Bolivian President Evo Morales says his country can become one of the world’s biggest suppliers of lithium, making the nation of 10 million people a major player in the drive to cut the use of fossil fuels.

Even with its massive reserves, Bolivia has never built a lithium mine.

‘Lithium Is the Hope’

“Lithium is the hope not only for Bolivia but for all the people on the planet,” says Morales, who, according to polls, was probably elected to a second term in elections yesterday.

If Morales gets his way, he will upset a market now controlled by two publicly traded companies: Princeton, New Jersey-based Rockwood Holdings Inc., which is 29 percent owned by Henry Kravis’s KKR & Co., and Santiago-based Sociedad Quimica y Minera de Chile SA, or Soquimich.

These two companies produce about 70 percent of the world’s low-cost lithium from a salt flat in Chile, just across the Andes from Bolivia.

Investors are wooing President Morales to be partners in building a Bolivian mine. French billionaire Vincent Bollore, South Korea’s LG Corp. and Japan’s Mitsubishi Corp. and Sumitomo Corp. offered to join with Morales in the project. They’re already helping the government at no cost to design the mine.

So far, Morales has rebuffed outside investment, saying he wants to keep lithium in government hands to provide local Indians with jobs. Morales says he may change his mind if Bolivia can’t raise the $800 million it would cost for construction of a mine and processing plants.

‘Like Saudi Arabia’

“If the Bolivian state had the money, it would invest it,” he says. “If the state doesn’t have cash, then we’re going to look for investment.”

Quisbert, the orphaned son of a llama herder, helped persuade Morales in 2007 to pledge $6 million to start work on what could be the largest lithium mine in the world by 2014, says Saul Villegas, who oversees lithium reserves at state-owned mining company Corporacion Minera de Bolivia. Bolivia has 35 percent of the world’s lithium resources, according to the USGS.

“Bolivia could become like Saudi Arabia,” says Gabriel Torres, an economist for Moody’s Investors ­Service Inc. in New York. “It has a huge amount of the world’s reserves.”

Carmakers are betting that electric vehicles built to run on lithium batteries will help the industry recover from its worst crisis in three decades. U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration is providing $11 billion in loans and grants to car and battery makers to reduce the country’s dependence on foreign oil.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tell me slappz, are you taking your lithium?

11:11 PM  

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