Bolivia: French Firm’s Lithium Proposal Environmentally Friendly

EFE, LA PAZ – President Evo Morales’ government characterized as environmentally friendly a proposal by French group Bollore to manufacture products from lithium carbonate, though adding that no decision has yet been made on which foreign partner La Paz will choose for the project.

Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca said Wednesday that Bollore executives presented him with a proposal titled “A Franco-Bolivian project for Bolivians to live well and in harmony with Pachamama (the Aymara Indian term for Mother Earth).”

“(On Tuesday), I was with (executives from) the Bollore company, which is interested in giving added value to our lithium, in manufacturing batteries for electric vehicles,” Choquehuanca said in presenting the proposal submitted by the French firm to the media.

He said the government has not yet made a decision on whether or not to partner with Bollore to exploit and “industrialize” the massive lithium reserves at the Uyuni Salt Flat in southwestern Bolivia, although he noted that the French group is proposing to manufacture electric vehicles “that do not pollute the environment.”

Choquehuanca said any agreement with a foreign firm to industrialize lithium must include the transfer of technology to the country and involve an “environmentally friendly” project.

Under the conditions of socialist President Morales, any company wanting to partner with La Paz must install a plant to manufacture cars powered by lithium batteries.

Uyuni, an almost 4,000-square-mile expanse of salt some 12,000 feet above sea level, is the world’s largest source of lithium, according to the government, which estimates total reserves at 19 million tons.

The Bolivian government currently is building a pilot plant at Uyuni to produce lithium carbonate – the main component of rechargeable batteries that power laptop computers, cell phones, iPods and digital cameras – on a small scale.

A second phase of the project will entail construction of a larger lithium carbonate plant, while an “industrial” phase to manufacture products such as batteries from lithium carbonate, with the assistance of foreign partners, is slated to begin in 2013.

In addition to Bollore, other companies that have expressed interest in partnering with the Bolivian government to tap its lithium riches include the Japanese firms Sumitomo and Mitsubishi and South Korea’s LG.

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