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Bolivia pegs hope for economic expansion on lithium production

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
August 21st, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Bolivia is a South American nation that is landlocked, with very little in the way of production and resources. However, that may change as it has been recently discovered that Bolivia holds half of the world's supply of lithium, a necessary ingredient in the production of batteries, which power such 21st century gadgets as iPads and cell phones

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Bolivia is the home to the world's largest salt flat. The area is called the Salar de Uyuni, which covers 4,000 square miles and where the salt layer is at least 400 feet thick. Lithium, a light metal is a necessary commodity for today's modern batteries for cell phones, laptops and even hybrid and electric cars.

Located in the Potosí and Oruro departments in southwest Bolivia, near the crest of the Andes, Salar de Uyuni is elevated 11,995 feet above mean sea level. The Salar was formed as a result of transformations between several prehistoric lakes. It is covered by a few meters of salt crust, which has an extraordinary flatness with the average altitude variations within one meter over the entire area of the Salar. The crust serves as a source of salt and covers a pool of brine, which is exceptionally rich in lithium. It contains 50 to 70 preserves of the world's lithium reserves.

Salar de Uyuni is part of the Altiplano of Bolivia in South America. The Altiplano is a high plateau, which was formed during uplift of the Andes Mountains. The plateau includes fresh and saltwater lakes as well as salt flats and is surrounded by mountains with no drainage outlets.

Bolivian President Evo Morales wants the nation to mine the site itself, with some foreign help. If engineers here can pull off the logistics, it would mean sending an army of workers from all over the country to a remote part of Bolivia along the border with Chile.

Bolivia began work in April 2011 with 150 workers. Progress has slowed, in part because the site still lacks a stable electricity supply.

In addition to heavy rainfall, much of the Salar de Uyuni remains underwater.

Japan, potentially a major buyer for lithium is urging Bolivia to speed up the project and meet its goal of a six-month test run before moving on to commercial production.

Bolivia also faces competition from lithium mines in neighboring Chile and Argentina. However, the Bolivian government received boost from a South Korean company that said it would help provide technology and the training of technicians.

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