HD Lithium, the driving force of the 21st century

Lithium, the driving force of the 21st century

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Lithium, the driving force of 21st CenturyThe workers are drilling the salt with humongous rigs, aiming for the brine underneath at the world’ biggest salt flats at Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia. Lodged under enormous quantities of magnesium and potassium lies their goal: lithium, the essential power source for all the world's gadgets, the key component to fuel the 21-st century. The market for lithium carbonate is booming. According to estimates, it could easily triple in the next five years. Understandably, the price of the white powder itself is surging, lithium still being the most efficient battery component by far… Fuelling not only our mobile phones and laptops but also gaming consoles, solar panels, robots, energy storage systems and electric vehicles.The depths under the salt flats are claimed to contain the world's largest lithium reserves. According to some estimates, the Bolivian Andes contain seventy percent of the planet's lithium. Soon after his ascent to power, Bolivian socialist president Evo Morales rode the crest of leftist policies in Latin America to nationalise all natural resources – from oil through natural gas to every kind of mineral one could imagine. The land's natural resources, for so long the curse of the Bolivian people, were finally to be turned into a great advantage, forming the core of the national economy and all the beneficial social programs Morales was aiming to implement. Yet so far, this sweeping idealistic vision has failed to materialise.Some years and several reality-checks later the Bolivian market is clearly opening up. The Chinese are not the only ones to have expressed an interest: the Japanese, the Germans, the Swedes, the French, the Swiss, the Koreans and the Canadians were quick to follow suit. Eight years from now the world's yearly demand is expected to total 470 000 tons. One percent increase in electric vehicles production could increase lithium demand by more than 40 percent of current global production. Does that mean Bolivia is entering the scrum at an ideal time?What will Salar de Uyuni look like in five years' time? What can 'the white gold' ultimately bring Bolivia?Text: Boštjan VidemšekPhotos, Video, Editing: Matjaž Krivic