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Bolivia Is the Saudi Arabia of Lithium 291

Posted by Soulskill
from the also-the-nepal-of-strontium dept.
tcd004 writes "You can literally scrape valuable lithium off the ground of many Bolivian salt flats. The country is poised to be the center of world lithium battery production, reaping the benefit of the metal's skyrocketing value. 'The US Geological Survey says 5.4 million tons of lithium could potentially be extracted in Bolivia, compared with 3 million in Chile, 1.1 million in China and just 410,000 in the United States. ... Ailing automakers in the United States are pinning their hopes on lithium. General Motors next year plans to roll out its Volt, a car using a lithium-ion battery along with a gas engine. Nissan, Ford and BMW, among other carmakers, have similar projects.' However, the government fears foreign countries might exploit their natural resources, so for the time being, the salt flats remain untouched."
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Bolivia Is the Saudi Arabia of Lithium

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  • by explosivejared (1186049) * <(moc.liamg) (ta) (deraj.nagah)> on Wednesday April 29, 2009 @01:04PM (#27761189)
    I generally lean towards advocating market based solutions and free trade in most economic situations. Coming from rural southwestern Virginia, however, and seeing the grip the coal industry has on politics in some areas around here I know how people can really be disadvantaged by mismanagement of natural resources. I also think back to the damage done by the informal imperialism in the Middle-East at the hands of BP (formerly known as the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company) and their like. In this case I can't help but be supportive of Morales' efforts to put these lithium reserves to work for the Bolivian campesinos. Having mineral resources has proven to be a curse just as often as it has been a blessing in modern history. Here's to hoping one Latin American government can get it right.
    • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@nOspAM.gmail.com> on Wednesday April 29, 2009 @01:14PM (#27761351) Journal
      Support is good. But maybe you should also be sending them a warning of what coal mining has done to your area?

      If you're from Virginia, have you had a chance to witness any of the mountain top removal strip mining operations [youtube.com] in West Virginia? There's an informative series on it at VBS.tv [youtube.com]. Don't worry, they don't leave the non-fertile shale rock bare after they're done. They spray a grass seed in mutant green nitrogen fertilizer shit all over it so it can look unnatural for a year before transforming back into a Martian landscape.
      • by explosivejared (1186049) * <(moc.liamg) (ta) (deraj.nagah)> on Wednesday April 29, 2009 @01:21PM (#27761469)
        I am actually very aware of strip mining practices. My father actually works at one, funnily enough. It was a matter of economics and not ideals which is rather disheartening, but we had mountains of debt and there aren't exactly a lot of good paying jobs to go around. Moral of the story, take care of natural resources on lands so people aren't left with tough decisions of supporting a family or soul-crushing environmental destruction like my dad was.
        • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@nOspAM.gmail.com> on Wednesday April 29, 2009 @01:33PM (#27761643) Journal

          My father actually works at one, funnily enough. It was a matter of economics and not ideals which is rather disheartening, but we had mountains of debt and there aren't exactly a lot of good paying jobs to go around.

          I don't mean to attack you or your father (or even the region as a whole) but how self sustaining is strip mining? I mean, has a generation or two of jobs and income been worth something that will forever be exposed rock? It's plain to me that even the timber industry would have lasted longer.

          I don't want to sound preachy a la The Giving Tree (I realize I do) but our ancestors saw those mountain top ecosystems as worthless ... and now maybe we see them differently. Bolivia should be wary of losing their salt flats and deserts even if they think they are wastelands. Limit strip mining and plan for the future, even if it's just setting aside funds to deal with inevitable environmental impacts. Even if it's using 10% of your strip mining income to plant/repair forests in other parts of your state.

          The money is drying up for West Virginia and what is left? West Virginia has many areas where there once were trees and snow and water runoff but for the sake of a few decades of jobs there is nothing ow but heavy metals in their drinking water ... possibly nothing for a long time. The world has been making poor decisions for far too long, think about your future.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by cayenne8 (626475)
            "Bolivia should be wary of losing their salt flats and deserts even if they think they are wastelands. "

            Well, Bolivia has other resources. Heck, I'm betting that one of the problems with opening up the salt flats for lithuim harvesting, is the cocaine industry there. I'm guessing they don't want the competition for US dollars?

            :)

            • by Chris Burke (6130) on Wednesday April 29, 2009 @04:08PM (#27763629) Homepage

              Well, Bolivia has other resources. Heck, I'm betting that one of the problems with opening up the salt flats for lithuim harvesting, is the cocaine industry there. I'm guessing they don't want the competition for US dollars?

              The cocaine industry is already pissed at the lithium industry, ever since they convinced GM to cancel their cocaine-powered vehicle, the Chevy White Horse, and their proposed cocaine-heroin hybrid, the Saturn Speedball (to be called the Belushi in the North American market), in favor of the Volt.

              • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

                by cayenne8 (626475)
                "The cocaine industry is already pissed at the lithium industry, ever since they convinced GM to cancel their cocaine-powered vehicle, the Chevy White Horse, and their proposed cocaine-heroin hybrid, the Saturn Speedball (to be called the Belushi in the North American market), in favor of the Volt."

                Well, to be honest, the best car for the coke industry was the Delorean.

                All you had to do, was "snort start" it, and it would follow any white line down the road....

                :)

            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by justin12345 (846440)
              Between the lithium and the cocaine, Bolivia may be poised to be the most energetic nation on the planet.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            Oh no I understand your argument. Resource extraction of any kind is never sustainable on a long enough time scale. Any country, region, etc. that builds its economy entirely on resource extraction is doomed to one day be overrun by poverty. The sad thing is the decision to sacrifice the long term health of the are has already been made here for the most part. That's why I'm on board with Morales. He's one leader that has learned from history, at least in this respect.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by moondawg14 (1058442)
          Strip-mining prevents forest fires.
      • by russotto (537200) on Wednesday April 29, 2009 @01:51PM (#27761891) Journal

        Support is good. But maybe you should also be sending them a warning of what coal mining has done to your area?

        Imagine what West Virginia would be like _without_ coal mining, however. Very pretty, I'm sure. But certainly far poorer.

        Same goes for Bolivia. They want to preserve the natural beauty of their salt flats or stick it to the developed countries or whatever, they can do so. But that lithium will do them no good in the ground.

        • by Rei (128717) on Wednesday April 29, 2009 @02:10PM (#27762093) Homepage

          Imagine what West Virginia would be like _without_ coal mining, however. Very pretty, I'm sure. But certainly far poorer.

          Well, if WV coal deposits [wvgenweb.org] correlate at all with per capita income [wvdhhr.org], I'd say it's probably negative. The only real exception seems to be Kanawha County, but that's simply because Charleston is there.

        • by explosivejared (1186049) * <(moc.liamg) (ta) (deraj.nagah)> on Wednesday April 29, 2009 @02:16PM (#27762149)
          Have you been to West Virginia? It's dirt poor now. They have both poverty and environmental destruction. People want to act like there is a constant negative association between the two, when there is none. I wouldn't advocate a complete end to coal mining like some I know. Just from observation the whole practice could be a lot saner.

          Morales has no intention of leaving the lithium on the ground. He has example after example of resource rich developing country gaining no benefit from allowing foreign firms come and extract said resources. That lithium is a Bolivian resource and Morales government has every right to negotiate the best price he can for the Bolivian people, and to keep the extraction process from causing negative externalities. Practicing sound economics does not mean giving into to corporate imperialism.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Al Dimond (792444)

          When West Virginia runs out of coal it will be ugly and poor (there's a "your mom" joke in there somewhere...), just like other ecologically devastated places.

          The lithium can't do them any good in the ground, and they can get some fairly well-understood value by taking it out. But it's impossible to value now what could potentially be lost by the processes that remove it -- we don't know what damage could occur or whether it will be possible to mitigate effectively. And, to be sure, any foreign company th

        • by Hurricane78 (562437) <deleted@s[ ]hdot.org ['las' in gap]> on Wednesday April 29, 2009 @02:44PM (#27762463)

          Yes, poorer and much emptier. BUT. Nowadays those resources are not as important to survival anymore. Nowadays, you can simply offer services over the Internet. Any service. You can live in the most remote pampas, and still make good money this way.

          I always wished, this would happen to poor countries without anything else to sell. But then I learned that whole Africa is full of rich resources. But it hasn't helped them a bit, because there are other forces at work.

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by hwyhobo (1420503)

            Nowadays those resources are not as important to survival anymore. Nowadays, you can simply offer services over the Internet

            You mean entire regions can survive on porn alone?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by dkleinsc (563838)

      You'd almost think that US corporations had a long history of using the US government to bully or overthrow Latin American countries in order to improve their profit margins.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        we've constrained ourselves to Latin America? that's news. i thought we had something to do with forcing Japan to trade with us in the mid 1800s by rolling a fleet into Tokyo Bay or helping the Brits hose Iran in the 1950s.

        • by dkleinsc (563838) on Wednesday April 29, 2009 @03:10PM (#27762793) Homepage

          No, we haven't constrained ourselves to Latin America, but we've done that sort of overthrowing and bullying to a majority of Latin American governments: Argentina, Cuba, Chile, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatamala, Haiti, Hondurus, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, and Venezuela (including very recently if you believe Hugo Chavez) have all at one point or another had military coups with US involvement.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      They should follow Norway's example. Norway had a nationalised oil industry where all of the profits went to the country and people, and thus they're rich and can retire early with big state pensions.

      Britain, exploiting the same sea bed, didn't do that, and we're all poor with naff pensions ahead of us.

  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@nOspAM.gmail.com> on Wednesday April 29, 2009 @01:06PM (#27761209) Journal

    "The previous imperialist model of exploitation of our natural resources will never be repeated in Bolivia," said Saul Villegas, head of a division in Comibol that oversees lithium extraction. "Maybe there could be the possibility of foreigners accepted as minority partners, or better yet, as our clients."

    Well, I'm glad somebody's thinking with their head.

    I also hope that money goes towards improving their infrastructure and fostering internal business instead of some bullshit palace for some bullshit dictator. All too often third world countries squander their resources on some nationalistic project in their capital or some aggressive military campaign when they don't even have electricity, utilities, law enforcement or running water in half their country.

    Neither articles seemed to mention much about pollution. I also hope that they move forward with the caution of the scars of pollution that mining has left on other countries--even Canada [google.com]. My coworker once commented at lunch (around the time of the Olympics) that we aren't exporting jobs or industry to China but rather just our pollution. Because it's cheaper to pollute there and the government doesn't care. Take precautions, Bolivia, develop standards now! Don't squander your resources!

    • I think we're exporting our pollution, along with our jobs and industry. Unless you really think all those dead end middle management jobs that we're being pushed to are actually going to be necessary in the long run.

      • by Rei (128717) on Wednesday April 29, 2009 @02:19PM (#27762189) Homepage

        I wouldn't really call lithium mining "exporting our pollution". It's pretty tame -- you take salt flat brines, selectively precipitate out the salts you want, and return the remaining salts. It's not like you're ripping off mountaintops or contaminating freshwater with lead or something.

        Anyway, as with all discussions of "reserves", this whole discussion is incredibly misleading. The concept of a reserves figure also has a market price and technology level associated with it. As market prices change and technology changes, what "reserves" are available in each country changes dramatically. For example, at high oil prices, Venezuela has more oil than Saudi Arabia. The same sort of thing is true with lithium. For example, one the Kings Valley, Nevada mine owned by Western Lithium Corp, which they're currently developing, has 50% more "reserves" at the minimum concentration they're planning to recover than the figure this articles gives for the entire United States. The entire Kings Valley was estimated back in the 70s/80s to have 11m tons LCE (lithium carbonate equivalent, the standard form for trading lithium).

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by CubicleView (910143)
      Hi, I'm Boliva, I find your ideas intriguing and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.
    • by dkleinsc (563838) on Wednesday April 29, 2009 @01:45PM (#27761815) Homepage

      I also hope that money goes towards improving their infrastructure and fostering internal business instead of some bullshit palace for some bullshit dictator.

      President Evo Morales of Bolivia is many things, but "bullshit dictator" he is not. He was democratically elected in 2005, and won a recall election in 2008 by a two-thirds majority. The Bolivian government has been a democracy since the 1980's.

    • "The previous imperialist model of exploitation of our natural resources will never be repeated in Bolivia"

      No, instead we will us the new model of exploitation perfected in Latin America: corporate officials will skim 80% of the revenues and buy condos in Miami and Buenos Aires. Si muy bueno!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rev_sanchez (691443)
      Latin America has had a few goes at this sort of thing in the past. One common outcome is that leaders looking to better the the quality of life for their people by maintaining fairly tight controls on these kinds of resources are called communists. Certainly some of these efforts have been ill conceived or terribly implemented or blatant power grabs but their governments are often overthrown violently by dictators aided by outsiders in exchange for the right to pillage those resources.

      I don't see why l
  • There's a lot of concern from everyone about "peak oil".

    Why is there not just as much of a concern about "peak lithium". If we really make a push to convert all cars to being electric, that's a ton of lithium required - and it's used in a lot of other applications too.

    That's why solutions like hydrogen as truly alternative fuels make more sense to me that rushing to consume a metal which is truly a non-renewable resource, unlike even coal and oil (which are simply slow to produce but are produced over time

    • by Vancorps (746090) on Wednesday April 29, 2009 @01:13PM (#27761323)
      Lithium batteries are quite recyclable. While your concern is probably warranted I don't think it's near as big a deal as you think.
      • by SuperKendall (25149) on Wednesday April 29, 2009 @01:21PM (#27761473)

        Lithium batteries are quite recyclable.

        But there is certain to be some loss over time from repeated recycling. And recycling does not help if the total amount you need is greater than the total amount available. That's why it may be important to consider using a resource you can actually renew, as in create.

        You may not think it's a big deal, but that's the problem - who actually knows if it's practical in the end to have all cars run off lithium batteries? If not, then it would make more long terms sense to direct efforts into fuel cell research for cars than improving batteries specifically for car use, which is a very different running scenario than smaller consumer batteries go through.

        • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Wednesday April 29, 2009 @01:29PM (#27761585) Homepage Journal
          1. Batteries and Fuel Cells are not an either-or problem any more than GNOME and KDE
          2. Everyone working on batteries and fuel cells could not/would not work only on one or the other any more than everyone working on GNOME and KDE would work on one or the other.
          3. If we can't make enough batteries with Lithium in them, we'll make some other kind of battery — research on other kinds of batteries isn't going to stop, either.

          Fuel cells suck. Barring true nanotechnology (as in, molecular assembly) they will probably always be energy-intensive to produce. Batteries suck, too. In fact, everything is pretty lame if you have very high expectations. In the mean time, try only to realize that hybrid cars are total boondoggles which consume vastly more energy in production to give you less mileage for more money than just buying a car with a small turbo diesel engine; meanwhile diesel has more energy than gasoline, and takes less non-free energy to produce, especially if you talk about biofuels but even when talking about dino juice. We need full-electrics so we can centralize power generation, and we need batteries which are at least twice as good as what we have now (as in, twice as favorable a price:performance ratio) in order to make them feasible for the mass market. Fuel cells are also disadvantaged because liquid fuel is harder to transport than electricity. Their only real benefit today is refueling time.

          • by Kral_Blbec (1201285) on Wednesday April 29, 2009 @01:47PM (#27761835)

            Wow, a linux analogy for a car on slashdot? I think I've seen it all now.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          http://gas2.org/2008/10/13/lithium-counterpoint-no-shortage-for-electric-cars/

          ^ that's why.

          The big point of the article is this: lithium can be extracted from the ocean for as cheap as $30 / kg, and there are 238 *trillion* tons of lithium in the ocean. Considering that a lithium battery uses about ~3 pounds of lithium, we're not going to be seeing a shortage for a long, long, time.

          Not to mention that lithium is not a *spent* resource like oil: the total amount of lithium we'll *ever* need is pretty constan

        • by JSBiff (87824)

          ". . .who actually knows if it's practical in the end to have all cars run off lithium batteries?"

          I do. The answer is "no". I suppose in the near-term, lithium batteries are not a bad idea, but cars that get 40 or 60 miles then need other energy sources (or swapped battery packs) to get you any farther are not going to get us away from using petroleum as an energy source. Yes, they can help reduce demand somewhat, and that's good, but if you reduce the demand, people will just drive more, and more people wi

      • In addition, it's an element used here for battery tech. We already -have- existing battery technology, and they're coming up with new ones all the time.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rechargeable_battery [wikipedia.org]

        That's not to say that we should squander Lithium resources any more than we should oil, thinking there'll be an alternative at hand anyway - but there's far fewer reasonable alternatives to oil (think about the uses beyond fuel) than there are to random-electric-battery-tech-X.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      If you'll notice, the article specifically mentioned that the Bolivian salt flats with these lithium deposits are projected to only be a sustainable source for a few decades. We are very aware of the scarcity of the resource.

      As for promoting hydrogen, I've always understood fuel cells to be just simply to inefficient. Plus, batteries are recyclable, so I'm not sure how non-renewable of a resource you can consider them.
      • by phulegart (997083)

        Just a note.

        Hydrogen does not equal Fuel Cell. Sure, you can use a Hydrogen fuel cell... but that is not the only way to use Hydrogen.

        Did you know...
        You can power a gasoline engine on straight hydrogen, if you advance the timing enough? Hydrogen gas fed into the cylinder... works wonders.
        You get hydrogen by running a DC current through water. It is that simple. Drop a 9volt battery in a glass of water. Watch bubbles form at each terminal. One side, the bubbles are Oxygen. The other side, Hydrogen.
        The

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Oil is an energy source. Lithium isn't. We are still deluding ourselves if we think we can burn oil to mine lithium so we can drive electric cars (on roads built and maintained by oil-powered machinery) that get their electricity from burning coal in most cases. Lithium can be recycled, but only in an oil-powered economy where cars and trucks can haul the batteries to factories where enough energy exists to recycle them.

      • by Ragzouken (943900)
        You heard of renewable energy?
      • by Rei (128717) on Wednesday April 29, 2009 @02:31PM (#27762335) Homepage

        Just ignoring that the energy needed to produce batteries is far less than the vehicles consume in their lifetime... are you saying that electric-powered freight trucks can't exist? That's big news! You better inform Balqon, Modec, Smith Electric Vehicles, and ElectroRides that their products are impossible.

        And do we really have to *yet again* cover the "long tailpipe" argument? Why won't this zombie die?

    • If we really make a push to convert all cars to being electric, that's a ton of lithium required

      And it is estimated that there are 5.4 million tons, so by your estimates, we could convert all the cars 5.4 million times over.

      But maybe you're estimate is a bit off :)

    • by iluvcapra (782887)

      Lithium can't power anything. A lithium battery is mostly a repository of power that you generated somewhere else. It's the same problem that we have with hydrogen. It's just a carrier medium; it's not like oil or coal, or Uranium, (or the Sun), which actually have intrinsic exploitable energy.

      • A lithium battery is mostly a repository of power that you generated somewhere else. It's the same problem that we have with hydrogen.

        No it isn't.

        If you need more hydrogen, it's easy to get from anywhere.

        If you top out consuming lithium (in terms of simple production of batteries for cars), how do you get more lithium to build batteries with? Even if you don't exactly run out in making new batteries, the consumption of it in quantities needed to make car batteries will drive the price up substantially - wh

        • by vlm (69642)

          SuperKendall is trying to be funny, I think. Everyone knows hydrogen comes from turning huge amounts of electricity (or steam and coal, or cracked crude oil, etc) into small amounts of burnable hydrogen. Hydrogen storage is quite a bit less efficient than just storing the electricity in a (lithium?) battery.

          No one consumes lithium except in some weird fusion/fission reactor designs. It's all out there, somewhere.

          The sea is full of lithium. Of course it would be stupid to refine sea water if there is a m

        • No, hydrogen is worse. Like helium, if you release it, it's gone. You have to pray that it combines with something before it reaches the thermosphere, because after that it's solar wind city.

          And, if that's not bad, when fossil sources run out, you have to crack it from the very compound you need the most.

          Lithium is just an "ease of extracting" problem. It's the most common element in the earth's crust, so it's not that you can't find it literally everywhere, it's just that some of it is bound up in compo

        • by iluvcapra (782887)

          Where are you going to 'get' hydrogen? Number 1 source presently is extraction from fossil fuels, a process that liberates carbon, I might add, and is less efficient than plain burning the fossil fuel. Number 2 method of electrolysis of water, which just turns electricity input into chemical potential energy as free hydrogen, minus losses. You can't mine hydorgen, and no one has a process wherein you put x amount of energy and get x+y in hydorgen potential energy back.

          You understand the point I'm making,

    • by Colonel Korn (1258968) on Wednesday April 29, 2009 @01:35PM (#27761661)

      There's a lot of concern from everyone about "peak oil".

      Why is there not just as much of a concern about "peak lithium". If we really make a push to convert all cars to being electric, that's a ton of lithium required - and it's used in a lot of other applications too.

      That's why solutions like hydrogen as truly alternative fuels make more sense to me that rushing to consume a metal which is truly a non-renewable resource, unlike even coal and oil (which are simply slow to produce but are produced over time).

      Yes, lithium may be scarce, but you've got a deep misconception that may be coloring your view and comparison with oil. Oil is a fuel. Allowing it to burn produces energy. Lithium in car batteries is not a fuel. It's a storage device.

      Comparing it to a gasoline system, you should think of it like the steel that makes up your gas tank. It stores energy, which must be produced elsewhere (like through burning oil or coal, for example). If we run out of oil, we need a new energy source. If we look to be running out of lithium, we can take worn out batteries and pull the lithium out of them to make new batteries.

      Hydrogen, as you point out, is plentiful. However, it is also just another gas tank, not a fuel. Hydrogen is produced by cracking methane. Two years ago I interviewed with the company that does 90% of the hydrogen production in the world. They pointed out that per mile on the road, more CO2 is produced by hydrogen production than gasoline consumption.

      Both hydrogen and lithium will be used as STORAGE for energy. Both can be reused basically unlimited times - managed well, we should never run out of either. Oil and coal, on the other hand, generate the power we can then store in lithium batteries or hydrogen, but that generation breaks the oil and coal permanently.

      • Yes, lithium may be scarce, but you've got a deep misconception that may be coloring your view and comparison with oil. Oil is a fuel. Allowing it to burn produces energy. Lithium in car batteries is not a fuel. It's a storage device.

        Yes I know (although I worded my original post very badly in that respect).

        My concern is simply, is there enough lithium that every car could be powered by lithium batteries - that is, is the total amount of lithium sufficient to provide batteries for all the needs we intend to

        • by Greg_D (138979)

          There's enough lithium in the ocean to bury every bare patch of land on the planet in cars. Supply isn't an issue.

      • What do you think Oil is? The carbon bonds in oil store energy. The electric charges in Lithium ions store energy. Hydrogen is an energy store.

        The only difference between oil, lithium and hydrogen is that with oil, we're taking advantage of millions of years of work done by mother nature. The energy stored in oil has already been produced elsewhere, and it will run out at some point. Just like lithium will. Hydrogen we really won't run out, but there are a host of problems associated with turning it into a

    • Maybe some Bolivian wise guy will invent a car that runs on cocaine?

      I used to think that the Eveready Energizer Bunny kept on running, because it was powered by lithium.

      Maybe it's powered by powder?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by vadim_t (324782)

      Lithium isn't the only thing that batteries can be made from.

      Electric cars need electricity, which can be stored in many forms. If there's not enough lithium perhaps we'll use NiMH batteries, or flywheels, or ultracapacitors, or superconductors, or...

      And unlike with oil, lithium running out shouldn't be a huge problem. Existing car batteries won't stop working. All that will be needed is to figure out a new system for new cars, and a compatible way to replace worn out batteries.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Cyberax (705495)

      Because there's A LOT of lithium. Nope THERE'S A LOT OF LITHIUM.

      It can be mined _extremely_ cheap in Bolivia, literally for several dollars per 1 kg. And a car will probably need just 10-15 kg of lithium for the lifetime of its battery. Which then can be recycled. So, not many problems at all.

      If you are prepared tp pay slightly higher price, say $30 per kg, then you'll have so many options, you'll have a hard time choosing which one to use.

      Oh, and no-one performed geological surveys to specifically search f

  • I for one welcome our...

    That is getting so old.

    Way to go Bolivia, be stingy until everyone else runs low then lease the mineral rights for massive profit. Just hope that an alternative for Lithium isn't found in the mean time.

    Oh... and don't you love our new energy independance?

    • Re:I for one... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by ColdWetDog (752185) on Wednesday April 29, 2009 @01:21PM (#27761463) Homepage

      Just hope that an alternative for Lithium isn't found in the mean time.

      Probably will be. A very cursory web search brought up this [webelements.com]. Seems likely that given some time, other reasonable deposits will be found. This actually makes it harder on Bolivia - they have a fairly small window of time (likely years) to figure out how to maximize revenue and hopefully minimize social and environmental issues.

      Being the cynic I am, I'm sure it will come out helping some fat cats and mostly screwing over everybody else. But that's just me.

    • by tnk1 (899206)

      Bad move. The Bolivians want to make money on the Lithium, but holding out for *too much* money will also make them a target.

      There are only three real reasons for conflict. Ideologies, religions and "honor" are just excuses for pride, fear and access to resources.

      If Bolivia hoards towards the day that Lithium can make them King, they had better also invest in weaponry and counter-intelligence, because they are in for a wild ride. They had better hope for their own sake that they never make the money the

  • Uyuni (Score:5, Informative)

    by neiras (723124) on Wednesday April 29, 2009 @01:14PM (#27761345)

    I hired some guy with a truck to drop me off out on those salt flats once, just for the hell of it. Incredible lightning shows kept me up most nights. Spectacular place. You could walk in any direction and feel like you weren't moving. It was utterly featureless, aside from the geometric pattern on the ground. I was pretty glad that the truck actually came back a couple of days later.

    On one hand, I'd be sorry to hear that the flats were being mined. On the other, Bolivians need something like this; I hope their government acts wisely and on behalf of all of their people.

    I'll be watching these events with interest.

    • by Trinn (523103)
      (I imagine this is actually some movie reference I'm missing entirely and I'll look dumb, but:) This sounds like a great place for a little exploring of internal landscapes, delving into the deep reaches of mind and soul as it were
  • Yet another country that can be exploited for their natural resources!
    • Anyone else wondering if "Bolivia is the Saudia Arabia of lithium" that it means they're the #1 most important import country when it comes to politics and wars, but the #3 biggest import country by actual imports, behind Canada and Mexico?
  • The "foreign imperialists" didn't exploit South America without hand-in-hand collusion of the South American governments. The "foreign imperialists" paid tons of money to South American (and African) governments for rights to natural resources. It was the corrupt officials that were more interested in their limos, yachts, palaces and personal wealth than building infrastructure and passing wealth to their peoples. Their own governments are just as guilty, if not more so, than foreign corporations.

    Bravo t

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Chris Burke (6130)

      Their own governments are just as guilty, if not more so, than foreign corporations.

      In many cases that is certainly true. In other cases of governments that were not corrupt (or at least, wanted to keep power and wealth inside the country rather than sell it out to a foreign company), the government of the country the foreign company was from would overthrow the insufficiently corrupt government and install one that was sufficiently corrupt. In which case the guilt of the foreign corp and their government

  • I mean, if metallic lithium is just lying around on the ground, wouldn't that be pretty spectacular?

    • by smaddox (928261)

      Well, since it is a salt flat, I'm guessing the lithium is in salt form (LiF, LiCl).

    • by CuriHP (741480)

      Since it's a SALT flat, I think it's a safe bet that it's tied up in lithium chloride or some other SALT.

  • by snaz555 (903274) on Wednesday April 29, 2009 @01:35PM (#27761673)

    0. Evil Bolivian liberals start talking about using the proceeds from sale of lithium for things like national defense, highways, electricity, water plants, schools, research facilities, health care, a functional judicial system - all this first-world stuff they could only dream of affording previously
    1. Coup
    2. Generals clean out subversives who think Bolivians should own their own natural resources, and make country safe for U.S. and European mining co's
    3. Generals sell off complete and exclusive rights for pennies on the dollar - no taxation or local businesses involved; Generals get rewarded with nice personal kickbacks
    4. Generals provide local labor for cheap. Very cheap. After all, they have a virtually infinite supply of desperate people willing to work for subsistence wages
    5. After 10-20 years as the locals revolt because of the total sell-out, generals escape to a first-world life in luxury
    6. As the locals refuse to accept the previous BS deal they kick out foreign mining co's and nationalize the resources
    7. U.S. decries evil commies and does its best to destabilize said evil commie government, by interfering with elections, supporting "freedom fighters" (read: insurgents and terrorists), and generally attempt to turn back the clock. The pretext is demanding "free elections", which of course can be rigged to practically restore the previous order
    8. After a generation everyone eventually gets tired of conflict, forget what they were fighting over in the first place, and things are allowed to return to some semblance of where they should have been at point 0. Only with a lot of bad history.

    Been there, done that. Got the t-shirt.

  • So, I'm curious as to how many tons of pollution we will generate with tankers, aircraft, and various other means of large cargo transit to move this metal to the areas of manufacturing to make all those "green" automobiles?

    Really makes you wonder about the whole point of it all, and the validity (if any) of Al Gores award-winning theory...

  • It's clearly time to bring democracy to Bolivia.
  • Norwegian oil model (Score:5, Informative)

    by arabagast (462679) on Wednesday April 29, 2009 @01:42PM (#27761779) Homepage

    They could consider following the same model the Norwegian government used when oil was discovered in the sea outside Norway; create a lithium fund managed by the government, paid by taxes and exploration fees from the companies wanting to mine the lithium. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norwegian_Oil_Fund [wikipedia.org]. It worked for Norway, it might work for Bolivia too.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dedazo (737510)

      Bolivia cannot possibly pull that off, not in a million years. That country is way too corrupt, even by Latin American standards. And the current president is, to put it mildly, a populist idiot who thinks it's better to bedazzle the masses with short-term bullshit than to try to create foundations for long-term growth.

      It's stupid to claim that the wealth is "staying here" when it's just being "stolen here" anyway.

      Now most countries are corrupt, including mine of course. But Bolivia is especially special (s

  • An alternate view is that they'll limit the production and manipulate the price. Then profit!!!

    Yes, I think the title pretty much sums it up.

  • Considering how their silver deposits were basically stolen from under their feet by the spanish conquistadores and then the tin reserved stolen again by the multinational corporations, and yet they remain one of the poorest countries in America... I hope they keep some of the wealth to improve their conditions. Evo (and successors) seems to be a person that may really achieve that goal. Yes, some of the $$ will go into the wrong hands (do you really think that Irak's war did not produce magnificent profi
  • In the short run moving from dependence on foreign oil to a dependence on foreign lithium might make sense, but in the long run countries are yet again dependent on a foreign source of energy. If oil is basically everywhere and Lithium is not, then why increase an energy dependence on few sources that can only tighten their grip more? It's in Bolivia's best interest not to stall to long before a new energy technology is used and they miss out due to indecision.
  • Great news! (Score:4, Funny)

    by cashman73 (855518) on Wednesday April 29, 2009 @02:00PM (#27761989) Journal
    When do we start bombing the country?
  • crap (Score:3, Funny)

    by jollyreaper (513215) on Wednesday April 29, 2009 @02:08PM (#27762067)

    So does this mean that the next president after Obama should start practicing holding hands and kissing cheeks or whatever men do in Bolivia? I'd actually have to compliment Obama on his reserve, only "bowing" to the sheik instead of playing kissy-face like Bush did.

  • by khallow (566160) on Wednesday April 29, 2009 @02:54PM (#27762587)
    No offense to Bolivia, but their current state of poverty indicates that they haven't had a government in a while that could properly take advantage of a windfall like this. The current government looks like one of the worst of the lot with little respect for law, incompetent with respect to economic matters, and implementing slightly worse than normal racist policies (classic leftist move, implement racist policies to hypothetically and ineffectually undo endemic racism).

    My view is that even the most impoverished of countries can greatly improve their well being with a couple of decades of competent government. There are simple things that government can provide to improve the lot of life and increase the value of economic activity in a country without requiring a great outlay of funds. For example, they could implement rule of law and limit the government's ability to subvert said law. Even an amoral, greedy multinational corporation should have rights. Second, public health is important, low-lying fruit. You can't magically eradicate disease, but a lot of countries, like Bolivia, have made no serious attempts at public health. Finally, there's education (both k-12 and college). It sounds like this Bolivian government is serious about that (with a greater expenditure of their GDP on education than the US had) so that's in their favor. And once these basic needs have been met, any competent government will have the revenue to build more sophisticated infrastructure.

    My view is that Bolivia has made little serious effort on the first two things with potentially a good investment in education. So why should we expect them to be able to properly manage these lithium deposits well? My view is that the current salt deposits would probably go fast, if they were exploited by developed world technology (rather than by people with pick axes). It'd provide a nice short term windfall, but Bolivia is not prepared to receive that windfall. It will most likely be squandered unless there are serious changes in how the government does business.
  • that could explain (Score:3, Insightful)

    by serbanp (139486) on Wednesday April 29, 2009 @02:56PM (#27762619)
    the recent attempt at Morales' life and the struggle of some of Bolivia's provinces to get full autonomy...
  • Chile vs. Bolivia (Score:3, Informative)

    by cenc (1310167) on Wednesday April 29, 2009 @02:56PM (#27762627) Homepage

    I live in Chile.

    Yea, Chile might have less but it is cheaper and safer source to get at.

    1. Bolivia is a really dangerous corrupt unstable country (nearly been killed there myself), that no one is really in control of.

    2. It has no access to ocean ports.

    Until both of the above are solved, don't bet on Bolivia.

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