LA PAZ – The Bolivian government said the country has two other lithium reservoirs in addition to the massive Uyuni Salt Flat, as well as 10 other deposits of non-metallic minerals such as potassium, magnesium, boron and ulexite.
A report released Thursday by the evaporitic resources division of the state-run Bolivian Mining Corporation, or Comibol, said the country’s second most important lithium deposit is the Coipasa Salt Flat, located in the western Andean region of Oruro near the border with Chile.
Coipasa has a roughly 3,300-square-kilometer (1,274-square-mile) surface area and, according to preliminary information from Comibol, has brine rich in lithium, magnesium, potassium and boron, as well as deposits of ulexite in some areas.
In November, President Evo Morales’ socialist government announced a plan to industrialize the brine lakes in that deposit with an initial investment of $250,000.
The other lithium reserve is the Pastos Grandes Salt Flat, which, like Uyuni, is located in the southwestern province of Potosi.
That deposit covers a 118-square-kilometer (45-square-mile) area and, in addition to lithium, also contains ulexite, a material in high demand for use in the ceramic, glass, fiber optics and fertilizer industries.
At the 10,000-square-kilometer (3,860-square-mile) Uyuni Salt Flat, the Morales government is building a pilot plant for the small-scale production of lithium carbonate, the main component of rechargeable batteries that power laptop computers, cell phones, iPods and digital cameras.
In the project’s second phase, the Bolivian government plans to construct an industrial-sized factory to produce lithium carbonate starting in 2013; that plant will take two to three years to build and will require investment of between $200-250 million.
Later, the government says it will seek a partnership with a foreign company to manufacture lithium batteries and even electric-powered vehicles.
Plans to develop the Uyuni Salt Flat, which is believed to be the world’s largest and is located some 12,000 feet above sea level, have sparked interest among foreign firms such as France’s Bollore and Eramet, Japan’s JOGMEC, Mitsubishi and Sumitomo and South Korea’s LG, as well as the Russian government.
In addition to those three lithium reservoirs, Bolivia also has six minor salt flats and four lagoons that contain non-metallic minerals in high demand by the chemical and construction industries.
Those deposits include the Laguani, Laguna, Chiguana, Capina and Challviri salt flats, which contain ulexite, sodium sulfate and boron and are all located in Potosi.
Bolivia’s nine salt flats have a combined surface area of 16,000 square kilometers (6,178 square miles).
The four lagoons – Colorada, Cañapa, Kachi Laguna and Collpa Laguna, all in Potosi – have been classified by the government as “evaporitic basins,” so-named because they accumulate crystallized salts containing sodium sulfate and sodium carbonate.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, Bolivia is home to roughly half of the world’s 11 million metric tons of proven and probable reserves of lithium, which is the lightest of all metals and a crucial component in electric-car batteries. EFE