The Bolivian government, in collaboration with Uranium One Group, a subsidiary of Russia’s State Atomic Energy Corporation, Rosatom, and Qinghai Citic Guoan Technology Development Co., Ltd., a subsidiary of China’s Citic Guoan Group, has recently disclosed that agreements have been signed for deals expected to total over $1.4 billion in combined investment.
The Bolivian authorities have announced that both CITIC Guoan and U-One Group are set to inject $857 million and $578 million, respectively, into the north of Uyuni Salt Flat and the Gran Pastos Salt Lake in Potosí Province. The funds will aid in the development of Lithium Carbonate Extraction Plants for lithium extraction technology (EDL) in the southwestern part of the country.
Construction of these factories is anticipated to commence within the next three months, aiming to be operational by 2025. Upon completion, the Bolivian Ministry of Oil and Gas Resources and Energy stated that each plant is projected to produce 25,000 tons of lithium carbonate annually, thereby adding an estimated 50,000 tons of lithium carbonate to the South American nation’s annual output.
Bolivia’s Minister of Oil and Gas Resources and Energy, Molina, revealed that, subject to technological feasibility, CITIC Guoan may consider additional investment to establish battery manufacturing plants and car assembly plants for technical research. The partnership with Russia, as per Molina, is intended for feasibility and investment outlook studies. Preliminary tests using Russian technology in salt marshes showed lithium ore recovery rates exceeding 80% and purity reaching 99.5%.
At the signing ceremony, Bolivian President Arce highlighted Bolivia’s abundant lithium resources, among the world’s largest, and expressed gratitude for the active involvement of Chinese companies. Despite boasting 21 million tons of proven lithium reserves, as per the 2022 US Geological Survey, Bolivia has yet to commercialise these resources due to lack of direct lithium extraction technology and inadequate infrastructure.
Zhang Sinan, a special commentator for Shenzhen Satellite TV, emphasised the importance of this tripartite cooperation, positioning Bolivia’s lithium resources, Russia’s salt lake lithium extraction technology, and China’s dominant new energy vehicle market for mutual benefit.
Sinan also pointed out that China’s strategic plans to secure the world’s largest lithium mine resources aim beyond future dominance in the electric vehicle field. Rather, the move signifies a broader shift away from fossil fuels towards new energy, with a focus on resources, technology, and industry.
The collaboration comes amid competition between China and the US, over future energy and the core of the future international trade system. This initiative in Bolivia’s lithium resources is just the beginning of what Sinan predicts will be a more heated rivalry in the future.
The potential for Bolivia’s lithium resources was also recognised earlier this year by Laura Richardson, commander of the U.S. Southern Command, who specifically mentioned lithium mines in the Triangle. In recent developments, Chinese battery giant CATL confirmed a $1.4 billion investment to assist Bolivia in developing its vast lithium reserves, solidifying a partnership established in January.
In the second quarter of 2023, following a sharp decline, lithium prices are expected to rebound as new energy demand improves. In the latter half of the year, with the stabilisation of lithium prices and recovery of the new energy industry, lithium mining companies are anticipated to witness a rebound in valuation recovery.