LA PAZ – Japan’s Sumitomo and Mitsubishi will send experts and equipment to Bolivia to support efforts to produce value-added lithium by-products in the Andean nation, state media reported.
Executives from state-run Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation, or Jogmec, signed an agreement here Tuesday on behalf of those two private companies with Bolivia’s Comibol state mining corporation.
Comibol is installing a pilot plant at the Uyuni Salt Flats in southwestern Bolivia that in 2011 will begin producing small quantities of lithium carbonate, the raw material for rechargeable, lithium-ion batteries that power electronic devices and electric vehicles.
“The entire necessary research team (will be sent) to the pilot plant” at Uyuni, the president of Jogmec, Hirobumi Kawano, told the official ABI news agency.
The Bolivian government says the Uyuni Salt Flats, a dried-up sea bed that stretches over a 10,000-square-kilometer (3,860-square-mile) area of the Andean high plains, is the world’s largest reserve of that metal.
Sumitomo and Mitsubishi are two of several companies interested in extracting raw lithium from Uyuni, located in Potosi province, and also producing by-products such as batteries for the rapidly expanding electric car industry.
President Evo Morales says Bolivia does not need foreign partners to produce lithium carbonate but that outside assistance is necessary to install a battery plant near the salt flat.
The president, however, is allowing foreign technicians to contribute to a lithium research committee.
Companies from South Korea, Russia, France and other countries also are interested in partnering with Bolivia to exploit the lithium reserves.
Morales said recently that the only country that has offered to partner with Bolivia on a project to manufacture lithium-ion batteries is Iran, adding that he hopes other countries or companies make similar proposals.
The socialist president, who also has repeatedly stated that potential partners must present plans for factories to manufacture electric vehicles powered by lithium batteries, said last month that merely exporting the metal as a raw material is a recipe for keeping Bolivia poor and underdeveloped. EFE