Bolivia steps up efforts to monetize lithium resources

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Bolivian government plans to set up a state lithium mining company, part of President Evo Morales' bid to industrialize the Andean country's commodities-dependent economy.

A bill due for debate authorizes the government to form Empresa Pública Nacional Estratégica de Recursos Evaporíticos, which would replace state mining company Comibol's lithium division known as GNRE, Comibol said in a statement on its website.

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The new company will have the power to sign JV contracts with local and international private companies to produce lithium batteries, lithium carbonate, chloride, sulfates and hydroxide, in addition to potassium chloride, sulfate and nitrates, Comibol said.

Bolivia has been trying to build US$900mn lithium project Salar de Uyuni for decades, but to date has constructed just a pilot plant, which in September sold 15t of lithium carbonate to China at US$9,200/t, Comibol said. The project is designed to produce 50,000t/y of lithium by late 2018.

Comibol has announced plans to invest 120mn bolivianos (US$17mn) in exploration this year, part of a government drive to invest US$1.97bn in the mining and metallurgical industries by 2020.

In other news, a state of emergency was declared in Huanuni – home to Comibol tin-mining concessions – after informal miners raided the properties and stole ore, local newspaper La Razón reported.

Comibol has been beset by problems over the past year, closing its Karachipampa silver-lead smelter and El Mutún iron ore mine because of technical problems and low metals prices. In addition, Swiss trader Glencore last year also filed for arbitration against the Bolivian government for the expropriation of mining assets from 2007-12.

Private investment has plummeted in Bolivia since Morales, who lost a bid to extend his mandate last year, seized mining operations from companies including Jindal Steel, Glencore and South American Silver since first taking office in 2006.