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Bolivia is hope to a brewing resource conflict over its lithium deposits.  (Source: NYT)

The Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia are home to over half the world's lithium deposits. With the prospects of millions of lithium-powered electric vehicles on the horizon, Bolivia's nationalistic government is considering taking ownership of the resources, while foreign competitors scramble over each other to try to obtain resource contracts.  (Source: Detroit News)
The scrappy race to secure lithium deposits may even outdo the race to secure new oil deposits

In the nation of Bolivia, the locals are sitting on a stockpile of white gold.  No, they haven't found a hidden gold deposit, but they have claim over something far more valuable -- lithium.

As battery efforts explode worldwide and the industry braces for electric vehicles, the demand for lithium, the current material primarily used in batteries, is at an all time high.  The situation is exacerbated by the fact that lithium is a scarce resource, with deposits only in a few locations worldwide.

Oji Baba, an executive in Mitsubishi's Base Metals Unit, describes, "There are salt lakes in Chile and Argentina, and a promising lithium deposit in Tibet, but the prize is clearly in Bolivia."

Bolivia is becoming a hotbed for a brewing economic resource war.  While some expect the Arctic oil resources to become the most hotly contested resource, the race for lithium could get just as nasty or worse.  On one side is the increasingly nationalistic government; on another side is a plethora of industrialized nations, and on a third front is Bolivia's indigenous people, who expect to receive a cut of the profits.

With over half the world's known lithium sitting beneath the deserts of Bolivia, many nations are desperately trying to make a deal with the government.  The Bolivian government is headed by President Evo Morales, who has criticized the U.S. heavily and promoted nationalization of industries.  He has already nationalized the oil and natural gas industries, and as he and other Bolivians realize the true value of their deposits. Many fear he will nationalize the lithium supply as well.

Some of the indigenous people are also demanding a cut.  States Francisco Quisbert, the leader of Frutcas, a group of salt gatherers and quinoa farmers on the edge of Salar de Uyuni, "We know that Bolivia can become the Saudi Arabia of lithium."

Japan and France, undeterred by Bolivia's increasing hostility towards the U.S. and other nations, have sent business representatives to the nation to try to negotiate resource deals.  Their representatives have traveled to La Paz, the capital of the nation, in hopes of brokering such an arrangement.

Mitsubishi is among the ones strongly pushing for exclusive deals.  However, many other companies in France, Japan, and even the U.S. also have shown interest -- among them are GM, Nissan, Ford and BMW, all of whom have electric vehicle projects.

For decades, lithium saw small demand for use in mood-stabilizing drugs and thermonuclear weapons.  That demand began to creep up as cell phone makers adopt it as their battery material of choice, thanks to its high energy density per volume and weight, compared to other technologies like nickel metal hydride.  And now those same lures -- the low weight per energy density -- have lured in its biggest customer yet, the auto industry.

The amount of lithium needed to make the massive battery packs in millions of planned electric vehicles will be unprecedented.  And the resource's scarcity is not only increased by its limited geographic distribution, but its difficulty to be harvested.  To extract lithium, miners must pump brine -- water saturated with salt -- deep into the desert's ground.  The water then is evaporated, leaving behind salt deposits, which contain lithium.

The U.S. Geological Survey pegs Bolivia's deposits at 5.4 million extractable tons.  The U.S. has 410,000 tons, while China has 1.1 million and Chile has 3 million.

 Juan Carlos Zuleta, an economist in La Paz urges his government to cut a profitable deal with the foreigners.  He states, "We have the most magnificent lithium reserves on the planet, but if we don't step into the race now, we will lose this chance. The market will find other solutions."

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Great, now we are fighting over sand!!!
By Expunge on 2/6/2009 11:48:15 AM , Rating: -1
Seriously.. this is ridiculous.

By napalmjack on 2/6/2009 11:49:52 AM , Rating: 3
No worse than people fighting over bat guano deposits in centuries past...

By Bender 123 on 2/6/2009 12:10:09 PM , Rating: 5
Who needs to fight over Lithium...

Just check the medicine cabinet of any Emo band member and there is bound to be enough Lithium to satisfy everyone.

RE: Great, now we are fighting over sand!!!
By MrBlastman on 2/6/2009 12:20:39 PM , Rating: 5
Anyone else get an image in their head of that long-forgotten episode of Gi-Joe where they were fighting over the heavy water deposits at the bottom of the ocean while battling giant tube worms?

RE: Great, now we are fighting over sand!!!
By phazers on 2/6/2009 1:46:32 PM , Rating: 1
So who won? I hope it was the YouTube Worms :)

RE: Great, now we are fighting over sand!!!
By MrBlastman on 2/6/2009 1:57:46 PM , Rating: 2
As Hank Hill would say: "What in he(ck) are you talkin about Bobby?"

Those episodes of Gi-Joe came out in 1984... Ahh the memories, I remember watching them while in 4th and 5th grade.

Watch for yourself and relive (or live for the first time??) the 80's glory.

RE: Great, now we are fighting over sand!!!
By Dreifort on 2/6/2009 3:05:00 PM , Rating: 3
Don't forget your sandwiches!
Oh you kids look so cute in your multi-colored hats.

Are you Buzz Light year? :

Pork Chop Sandwiches!! :

Who wants a body massage? :

see them all here:

RE: Great, now we are fighting over sand!!!
By MrBlastman on 2/6/2009 3:11:23 PM , Rating: 2
You just made my day!

Thanks for the laughs. :)

By Dreifort on 2/6/2009 3:13:09 PM , Rating: 2
old school stuff for us geeks, but timeless nonetheless!

By DigitalFreak on 2/6/2009 1:53:48 PM , Rating: 2

I actually remember that episode!

By Smartless on 2/6/2009 6:31:17 PM , Rating: 2
Hey I remember that one with the crystals and that gun, and Scarlett fighting that other chick... and... oook. It's too late for me, Nerditis has taken over.

RE: Great, now we are fighting over sand!!!
By AntiM on 2/6/09, Rating: -1
RE: Great, now we are fighting over sand!!!
By barjebus on 2/6/2009 1:59:36 PM , Rating: 2
You ignore the inefficiency of creating that hydrogen fuel, which reduces the 60% number that you pulled out of the air.

By Keeir on 2/6/2009 5:40:33 PM , Rating: 2
Actually, he is quite close to the "right" number. The very best Hydrogen Fuel cells are between 50-60% efficient at turning Hydrogen into Electricity at thier ideal running condition

What he did that was wrong is compare ideal state real world fuel cell efficieny with whole car efficieny for IC engines.

Diesel Engines have demonstated ideal state real world efficieny of 45%+

The real benefit to using a Electrical based system (Fuel Cell) is that an electrical based system can be designed to more efficient use power produced at the engine into forward motion than the currently used mechanical based systems

RE: Great, now we are fighting over sand!!!
By barjebus on 2/6/2009 1:45:53 PM , Rating: 2
What I don't understand is how using brine to extract the lithium is complicated. Potash solution mining has been around for some time already.

RE: Great, now we are fighting over sand!!!
By afkrotch on 2/6/09, Rating: 0
By ekv on 2/6/2009 2:38:18 PM , Rating: 4
There's a grain of truth to what you say, so it's humorous and all. However, I'm just kind of curious about your level of Lithium intake?

“Then they pop up and say ‘Hello, surprise! Give us your money or we will shut you down!' Screw them. Seriously, screw them. You can quote me on that.” -- Newegg Chief Legal Officer Lee Cheng referencing patent trolls

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