Lithium and its future

(a natural element to help people everywhere)

A soft, silvery, highly reactive metallic element that is used as a heat transfer medium, in thermonuclear weapons, and in various alloys, ceramics, and optical forms of glass.
lithium-ion battery
A battery that uses lithium metallic oxide in its positive electrode and a carbon material in its negative electrode.
To balance in the mind in order to make a choice; to ponder or to evaluate: "They want to weigh the alternatives and to make a good decision."

To choose carefully or deliberately.

Uyuni, Bolivia, where the salt flats are attracting multinationals' interest

In the rush to build the next generation of hybrid or electric cars, a sobering fact confronts both automakers and governments seeking to lower their reliance on foreign oil; almost half of the world's lithium, the mineral needed to power the vehicles, is found here in Bolivia; a country that may not be willing to surrender it so easily.

Several companies are busy trying to strike deals to tap the resource because lithium is a critical component for batteries that power cars and other electronics.

For now, the government indicates that it will closely control the lithium itself and the pressure of indigenous groups in the remote salt desert where the lithium exists are pushing for a share in the eventual bounty.

"There are salt lakes in Chile and Argentina, and a promising lithium deposit in Tibet, but the prize is clearly in Bolivia. If we want to be a force in the next wave of automobiles and the batteries that power them, then we must be here."
-Oji Baba, an executive in Mitsubishi's Base Metals Unit

Efforts by foreigners, including the Japanese conglomerates Mitsubishi and Sumitomo and a group of French industrialists have sent representatives to La paz, the capital of Bolivia, to meet with the government to gain access to the lithium, a critical component for the batteries that power cars and other electronics.

Mitsubishi is not alone in planning to produce cars using lithium-ion batteries. Ailing car makers in the United States are focusing their hopes on lithium, including General Motors, which next year plans to roll out its Volt, a car using a lithium-ion battery along with a gas engine. Nissan, Ford, and BMW, among other car makers, have similar projects.

Demand for lithium, long used in small amounts in mood-stabilizing drugs and thermonuclear weapons, has climbed as makers of batteries for BlackBerrys and other electronic devices use the mineral.

The U.S. Geological Survey says 5.4 million tons of lithium could eventually be extracted in bolivia, compared with three million in Chile, 2.1 million in China, and just 410,000 in the United States.

The automotive industry holds the biggest untapped potential for lithium, analysts say. Since it weighs less than nickel, which is also used in batteries, it would allow electric cars to store more energy and drive longer distances.

As Bolivia ponders how to tap its lithium, nations with smaller reserves are stepping up. China has emerged as a top lithium producer, tapping reserves found in a Tibetan salt flat, but geologists and economists are debating whether the lithium reserves outside of Bolivia are enough to meet the climbing global demand.

—Excerpts compiled from the
"The people's lithium? Bolivia is weighing its options" by Simon Romero in the
International Herald Tribune, February 3, 2009; pages 1 and 8.

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