Bolivia's Lithium Reserves Could Power Electric Car Boom

salar de uyuni image

The auto industry is beginning to look to lithium batteries to power new models of hybrid cars. The new demand for lithium could be a boon for Bolivia, the poorest country in South America, which holds half of the world's lithium reserves, according to BBC News.

Lithium is a soft alkali metal found in rocks and sea water, and much of Bolivia's commercially exploitable reserves are located in the brine under salt flats of the dazzling white Salar de Uyuni in central Potosi state. Last week, Planet Ark reported that the government will invest $6 million in a pilot plant to help it figure out the best way to mine lithium.Lithium carbonate is already used in rechargeable laptop computer and mobile phone batteries because it can store more energy in a lighter, smaller space than most alternatives,

According to BBC News, several car companies are developing lithium batteries for new hybrid fleets. GM has one in its new hybrid Volt, while Toyota is testing one in its next generation hybrid Prius. Mercedes-Benz is testing an electric version of its Smart, while BMW is doing the same with its Mini. Nissan-Renault, Mitsubishi and Volkswagen are all rushing to buy or produce enough of the batteries for future models.

But like so many other metals that yield great profits for mining companies, there could be environmental costs with the lithium rush.

"It is...going to generate pollution, not just from fossil fuels but also from lithium plants, which produce sulphur dioxide," Luis Alberto Echazu, Bolivian minister for mining, told BBC News. "This isn't a magic solution." : Via BBC News
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