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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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Yet again...
By Amiga500 on 2/6/2009 1:10:19 PM , Rating: -1
The 'developed' nations feel they can dictate how another country should run itself.

Shameful.

If improving the living standards of every Bolivian means nationalised industries, so be it.

If it means fat cat sh!tes in multinationals don't make their $10 million dollar annual bonuses off the back of it, even better.




RE: Yet again...
By MrBlastman on 2/6/2009 1:32:11 PM , Rating: 2
So if your government came into your home and took all your possessions from you because "You didn't need them and the government needs them now," would be okay with you? This is essentially what the Bolivian Government has done with businesses which mirrors what Hugo Chavez did.

The more posts I read from you the more I realize how potentially extreme you are towards the left.


RE: Yet again...
By Spuke on 2/6/2009 1:55:35 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
The more posts I read from you the more I realize how potentially extreme you are towards the left.
I thought he was simply silly.


RE: Yet again...
By Amiga500 on 2/6/09, Rating: -1
RE: Yet again...
By Keeir on 2/6/2009 5:58:18 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
If nationalisation means they get these things - so be it.


I would agree, but in the past nationalisation has not resulted in significant improvement in quality of life for most people. Nationalisation has in many countries led to extremely corrupt business practices that are in turn supported by the government rather than the government attempting to at least appear to control them.

In the Long Run, from what I have seen in other countries, Nationalization run correctly leads to a slow and measured increase in quality of living. Private Industry has fits and starts in change in quality of living (and is often negative).

quote:
A business is not your home.


Both are your property...

whats next? You home is not your life? You car is not your job? You Meat (insert favorite luxury food here) is not your food?


RE: Yet again...
By Amiga500 on 2/7/09, Rating: -1
RE: Yet again...
By m4elstrom on 2/9/2009 1:39:05 PM , Rating: 3
WOW just WOW....
As a Venezuelan living in Venezuela all I hope is that you sir be more informed before you make a statement like that. Nationalisation left us with 30%+ inflation last year, and a goverment that is 90%+ corrupt, (yes even Chavez, he spends goverment money on political campaigns and his family is now wealthy beyond any dreams). We get to be second on the world inflation race YAY!


RE: Yet again...
By Catalyst on 2/13/2009 2:22:06 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
The more posts I read from you the more I realize how potentially extreme you are towards the left.


Ideologies are like accents, you think everyone else has one but don't hear your own.

The role of government is to provide for its people. All of its people. The Right wing commenters in this thread want government to favor business as a means of prosperity in the countries in question. With Neo-Liberal policies working in South America since the 80's with no benefit and decreased standards of living for the majority of people, I'd say that form of capitalism is a qualified failure.

If people in South America are electing governments that promise more nationalism, maybe that says they are tired of the status quo, and we are just shooting the messenger (Chavez). Nationalism can't be all bad, after all, we have quite a bit here in the U.S.


RE: Yet again...
By mvpx02 on 2/6/2009 1:42:37 PM , Rating: 2
Do you really think that Bolivia nationalizing its lithium industry will have the slightest tangible impact on the quality of life for most of its citizens?

Typically governments nationalize industry out of greed. Corrupt officials see corrupt CEO's making money and they want a part of it, and I guess sometimes taxation just isn't a direct enough route to the company's profits.

Bolivians will not benefit from government involvement, it would merely mean replacing the direct-deposit bank accounts of Bolivian business men with those of the government and its officials.


RE: Yet again...
By Amiga500 on 2/6/2009 4:51:55 PM , Rating: 1
Both yourself and nafhan make similar points - with admittedly considerable justification from history.

However, the stats from Venezuela would suggest that there are instances where nationalisation/socialism/whatever is helping the majority (although the haves do not like the have nots getting a hand). After all, isn't that what a democracy is supposed to be about - getting what is best for the majority with all having an equal voice?

I must stress - you need to listen to the poor ~80% of the population, not the rich ~20% who are opposed to the poor getting a chance to climb the class system. Those ~20% make much more noise - so be careful!

For instance, the overall education standards in the country have improved in the time of Hugo Chavez, as has access to medical treatment.


RE: Yet again...
By Keeir on 2/6/2009 6:08:31 PM , Rating: 3
I would like to point out that the time period you are examining for Hugo Chavez for the most part has been a time period of dramatic economic windfall due to large increase in price of the primary export of Venezuela, Oil. It will be interesting to see how the nationalized economy reacts now that money is essentially not being shoved into its hands by the world demand for oil and whether Venezuela can continue to increase standards of living with the bonus Oil Revenues


RE: Yet again...
By Amiga500 on 2/7/2009 9:53:47 AM , Rating: 2
Indeed it will.

Have they invested sufficiently in developing the fields?

Right now it doesn't look like it.


RE: Yet again...
By nafhan on 2/6/2009 2:04:44 PM , Rating: 2
Nationalized industries have historically not done so well, especially in South America. Because of inefficiency and corruption, they tend to "succeed" only in positions where a monopoly or cartel would otherwise be able to succeed due to lack of competition (i.e. OPEC).


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