In a remote corner of Bolivia lies half of the world’s reserves of the mineral Lithium. Lithium carbonate is already in the batteries of laptop computers and mobile phones. The lithium battery is the first choice of the car industry to boost the power of their new models. Toyota, Mercedes and BMW are currently testing the lithium battery in electric models.
Mitsubishi believe that the demand for lithium will outstrip supply in less than ten years unless new sources are found. Lithium is found in rocks and sea water; all commercially exploitable reserves are found in the brine under salt flats. The largest reserves lay in Bolivia in the Salar de Uvuni a remote southern Andean plane.
There is a problem as Bolivia is not known to be friendly to foreign industry. The president of the country has made it clear that they will not allow foreign mining companies to extract lithium. He says that historical experience will not be repeated, gold, silver, and tin, oil and gas have all been found and exported yet the country still remains the poorest in the region. Local miners are all in agreement with their president they feel any money would go elsewhere and there is concern for damage to the environment.
Mitsubishi estimate that the world would need more than 500 kilotonnes of lithium a year for electric cars to become the ‘norm’.