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Companies chosen to test lithium extraction methods in Bolivia

Tue, 09/14/2021 - 15:44 -- Paul Crompton

Nine companies have been selected to conduct pilot lithium extraction projects by the Bolivian government as the country looks to develop large-scale production of the key lithium-ion battery material.

The unnamed firms were chosen following an international call for proposals to develop deposits in the salt flats of Uyuni, Coipasa and Pastos Grandes. 

State-owned lithium company Yacimientos de Litios Bolivianos (YLB) was founded in 2017 to oversee the development of the country’s lithium industry.

YLB will evaluate the bidders to determine which extraction technology is the most suitable for the Bolivian resources. 

The latest projects are expected to use Direct Lithium Extraction (DLE) methods in the Salar de Uyuni salt flat, which has an estimated lithium resource of 21 million tonnes (mn/t).

DLE extracts lithium directly from brine water, without having to evaporate the brines first, which has environmental concerns.

Bolivia hopes the technology will allow it to eventually produce cathodes, lithium carbonate and lithium batteries.

Bolivia has the world's largest lithium resource, when compared with resources of 19.3 mn/t in Argentina; 9.6mn/t in Chile; 6.4mn/t in Australia; and 5.1mn/t in China, according to the US Geological Survey.

Although the firms remain unnamed, Russia’s state owned Rosatom State Atomiс Energy Corporation (ROSTOM) signed a memorandum of cooperation with the Ministry of Energies of the Plurinational State of Bolivia to cooperate in developing the lithium industry through industrial projects and research.

In 2019, the Bolivian government awarded lithium production contracts to German company ACI Systems and China's Xinjiang TBEA, but they were stalled amid local opposition and were put on hold by November 2019.

Lithium extraction methods

Bolivia received $11.6 million from lithium production in the first six months of the year, according to YLB.

Around 6,000 tons of lithium carbonate and potassium chloride was produced and sold during the first half of the year and the goal is to “double” that by the end of the year, said Marcelo Gonzales, executive president of YLB, in July

YLB has been running a pilot operation, producing several hundred tonnes of lithium carbonate per year. 

The company told media outlet Argus Media: "There are five to six types of Direct Lithium Extraction (DLE) technology that are being developed; each company employs different technology, which must be adapted to the type of raw material that our salt flats have. The objective is to identify what type of technology is best suited to the recovery of Bolivian lithium." 

The Bolivian government is looking to develop a vertically integrated supply chain within Bolivia under local ownership, rather than having international companies exporting raw materials. 

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Bolivia and India plan lithium supply for batteries joint venture

Tue, 04/02/2019 - 15:58 -- John Shepherd
Ram Nath Kovind (left) with Bolivian president Evo Morales

Bolivia and India are working on plans to set up a lithium supply chain between the countries to serve joint venture battery production plants.

Lithium carbonate originating in Bolivia would be delivered to the battery/cell manufacturing facilities in India, according to an agreement signed by Indian president Ram Nath Kovind (pictured left) during a state visit to Bolivia.

Under the terms of the deal, both sides “agreed to facilitate mechanisms for the commercialisation of lithium carbonate and potassium chloride produced in Bolivia by the state-owned exploration and refining firm Yacimientos de Litio Bolivianos Corporación (YLB).”

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Saft strikes li-ion ESS deal in South America

Tue, 10/28/2014 - 15:29 -- Laura Varriale
Saft ESS

Energy storage giant Saft has been contracted by Isotron SAU to supply two lithium-ion battery storage systems to a solar PV diesel hybrid plant in Bolivia’s Pando region.

Saft’s energy storage system (ESS) is aimed to enable solar storage at the site and integrate power into the diesel-powered grid. The ESS will combine two containerised lithium-ion battery systems, with a nominal storage capacity of 580kWh and 1.1MW peak power output each.

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5MW off-grid PV-diesel hybrid plant with battery storage to be built in Bolivia

Thu, 08/21/2014 - 16:16 -- Laura Varriale
PV plant

A 5MW solar-diesel hybrid power plant connected battery storage is to be installed in Bolivia's Pando province.

Solely diesel generators are currently powering the remote area, located 4,000 metres above sea level and not connected to Bolivia's national grid. The 5MW solar plant is designed to meet half of Pando's capital city Cobija's power demand. The city has 45,000 residents.

Inverter manufacturer SMA is to provide controlling systems, central inverters and battery storage. "The SMA Fuel Save Controller records the energy flows in the stand-alone grid and uses that information to determine the maximum permissible PV power. In this way, we can guarantee permanent system stability and ensure smooth control of the gensets," said SMA senior vice president off-grid and storage Volker Wachenfeld.

Spain's engineering firm Isotron is currently carrying out the construction of the plant.

The plant is aimed to reduce the annual consumption of 20m litres of diesel and save $3m of fuel costs.

The solar power plant is set to start generating 2MW of electricity later this year and increase the capacity over the following months. According to SMA, it is worldwide the biggest plant of its kind.

The plant is fully state-owned.

Bolivia’s first lithium-ion battery plant opens

Wed, 02/26/2014 - 17:08 -- Ruth Williams
The Uyuni Salt Flats hold up to 100m tonnes of lithium

Bolivia’s first lithium-ion battery manufacturing plant has opened in La Placa, a town near the Uyuni Salt Flat— the world’s largest lithium reserve.

The factory has been built by Chinese battery manufacturing company LinYi Dake from Shandong. A small team from LinYi Dake will oversee the plant that will employ 21 Bolivian operators.

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Bolivia takes first steps in lithium manufacture

Thu, 01/17/2013 - 17:36 -- Ruth Williams

Bolivia will receive a US$2.9 million Chinese-made pilot plant for manufacturing lithium-ion batteries in the next few weeks, with production expected to start up in the second half of this year, according to government officials.

Uyuni Salt Flat

According to Corporacion Minera de Bolivia official Luis Alberto Echazu, the plant will be used to train Bolivian technicians, who will learn how to operate an industrial plant that will be constructed in the future.

The project is part of a government plan to develop the Uyuni Salt Flat, located in the southwestern Andean province of Potosi, on its own to produce batteries for electric cars, computers and cell phones.

President Evo Morales is promoting the development of the lithium industry without foreign partners, but he has proposed a partnership with Japan to manufacture electric cars in Bolivia that would use domestically made lithium-ion batteries.

The Uyuni Salt Flat, a dried-up sea bed that stretches over a more than 10 000sq kilometer (some 4 000-sq mile) area, is the world's largest reserve of the planet's lightest metal.

The Bolivian government says the salt flat contains 100 million tons of lithium reserves, although the U.S. Geological Survey puts the figure at just nine million tons.

The Morales administration has been working since 2009 to install a pilot plant to make lithium carbonate at Uyuni and its goal is to show results in ‘industrialising’ the metal before 2014.

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