On Thursday, the Bolivian government announced that it has signed lithium agreements with Russia's state-owned atomic energy company, Rosatom, and China's Citic Guoan Group, seeking to develop its huge but undeveloped lithium battery
The two deals are expected to have a total investment of $1.4 billion. Previously in January, it reached a similar agreement with Chinese battery giant CATL. This is another potential victory for the Chinese government in securing the supply of metals for electric vehicles.
Franklin Molina, Bolivia's hydrocarbons and energy minister, said at an event in La Paz, "Through these deals, our country will be able to produce about 100,000 tons of lithium carbonate in the Uyuni, Coipasa, and Pasto Grandes salt flats by 2025."
According to data from the US Geological Survey, Bolivia's iconic salt flats are the largest lithium resource in the world with reserves of 21 million tons, but the country has long been trying to increase industrial output or develop commercially feasible reserves.
Governments, mining companies, battery markets, and global car manufacturers from Tesla to BMW are all racing to ensure the supply of metals. In the major shift to electric vehicles, many batteries require metals.
Molina said these investments will allow for the construction of two direct lithium extraction (DLE) processing plants in the towns of Pasto Grande and Uyuni Norte, producing at least 45,000 tons of lithium carbonate per year.
Rosatom participated in the bidding through its subsidiary Uranium One Group and confirmed the news, stating that it will invest $600 million in the project. This is the company's first large-scale lithium project overseas, with plans to produce 25,000 tons of lithium carbonate annually.
Kyrill Komarov, First Deputy Director-General of Rosatom, said in a statement, "Based on the results of the geological exploration work, it is possible to increase production capacity."
Molina said Citic Guoan will invest $857 million and will also "consider investing in battery plants
, and may conduct technical research, establish a car assembly plant to create a real electric transportation revolution."
He said the deal with Uranium One is for feasibility and pre-investment studies, and added that multiple tests using Russian technology on the salt flats have shown a lithium recovery rate of over 80% and a purity of about 99.5%.
Together with Bolivia, neighboring countries Chile and Argentina form the so-called "lithium triangle," home to the world's largest metal reserves. Chile and Argentina are much more advanced in production, but projects often take years to bear fruit.