Bolivia deepens its rapprochement with China: it chose the battery giant CATL for the exploitation of lithium

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The agreement could help unlock the enormous potential of the South American country and drive the global switch to electric vehicles

Bolivia deepens its rapprochement with China: it chose the battery giant CATL for the exploitation of lithium

File photo of a Bolivian state-owned firm YLB's plant on the Salar de Uyuni (REUTERS/Claudia Morales)

Bolivia has chosen a consortium including Chinese battery giant CATL to help develop the huge lithium reserves of the country, largely untapped, after a lengthy bidding process involving companies from the United States and Russia.

The agreement announced Friday at an event in the political capital, La Paz, would see CATL as a member of the CBC consortium in the direct extraction of lithium from the Potosí and Oruro salt flats in the country.

The deal could finally help unlock Bolivia's enormous potential as a supplier of lithium for the batteries needed to drive the global shift to electric vehicles, though projects to extract the ultralight metal take many years and persist doubts about the direct extraction technology being used.

Bolivia deepens its rapprochement with China: it chose the giant of CATL batteries for lithium exploitation

The Contemporary Amperex Technology Ltd (CATL) R&D center in Ningde, Fujian province, China (REUTERS/Jake Spring/)

The iconic Bolivian salt flats are home to the world's largest lithium resources at 21 million tons, according to the US Geological Survey, but the country has almost no industrial production or commercially viable reserves.

Bolivian President Luis Arce, He said the CBC would invest more than $1 billion in the first stage of the project, boosting the infrastructure, roads and conditions necessary to start up the plants the country hopes will one day produce lithium cathodes and batteries.

It added that talks were underway for possible partnerships with other foreign companies. Firms that have stayed in the race include US-based Lilac Solutions, Russian Uranium One Group and three other Chinese bidders.

Bolivia deepens its rapprochement with China: it chose the battery giant CATL for lithium exploitation

Archive image of the salar de Uyuni, Potosí, Bolivia (REUTERS/David Mercado)

“Today Bolivia is entering the era of industrialization of its lithium,” Arce said, adding that the country “has no time to lose” in metal development. The price of battery-grade lithium reached close to $85,000 per ton by the end of 2022.

Energy Minister Franklin Molina said the move showed there were “sovereign alternatives to the privatizing models of lithium exploitation”. Bolivian state firm YLB will oversee and take a central role in the project.

(By Daniel Ramos – Reuters)

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