Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Lithium-Ion Batteries and Bolivian Politics

Last January Paul Kedrosky had this on his Infectious Greed blog:

Butch Cassidy: Kid, the next time I say, "Let's go someplace like Bolivia," let's go someplace like Bolivia.
- Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid (1969)
The current ardor for lithium-ion batteries has, given the material relative scarcity, some interesting economic and geopolitical consequences, not least of which is there is insufficient supply:

"Analysis shows that a world dependent on lithium for its vehicles could soon face even tighter resource constraints than we face today with oil," wrote [William] Tahil, pointing out that lithium-rich South America would become the new Middle East. "Concentration of supply would create new geopolitical tensions, not reduce them."

The biggest source of lithium – either as a carbonate or chloride – is the limited number of salt pans and salt lake deposits around the world, mostly in countries such as Chile and Argentina. The last and biggest untapped reserve of lithium salt, according to Tahil, is in the Bolivia salt pans.

"Bolivia is said to contain lithium reserves of 5.4 million tonnes or nearly 50 per cent of the global lithium metal reserve base, and an even higher percentage of the lithium salt reserves," he writes. And while attempts have been made to get at these reserves, "The current political situation in the country is acting as a strong disincentive for western mining companies to operate there."

Here's the report he quotes,
The Trouble with Lithium
Implications of Future PHEV Production for Lithium Demand

...Lithium Production and Resources
Global Production of Lithium containing minerals today is about 20,000 tonnes of contained Lithium metal.
The two main mineral sources are:
● Brine lakes and salt pans which produce the soluble salts Lithium Carbonate and Lithium
● A hard mineral called Spodumene, which is a silicate or glass of Lithium and Aluminium.
The main producers of Lithium minerals are Chile, the USA, Argentina, China, Australia and Russia.

I found myself thinking of Bolivia when I saw an ad for GM's Volt, scheduled for 2010. Here's what EETimes had to say yesterday:

The limiting factor facing hybrids as well as all-electric vehicles is the availability of battery cells, according to the Electric Drive Transportation Association's spokeswoman."The technology is coming along," she said. "Manufacturers are working on lithium-ion as well as nickel metal hydride cells."

Lithium ion provides higher energy density than nickel metal hydride, but its higher cost remains a stumbling block, said Steve Glaser, vice president of corporate affairs for Azure Dynamics Inc., a Toronto-based supplier of hybrid and electric components and powertrain systems for commercial vehicles.

Chevrolet expects to use lithium-ion batteries in its Volt hybrid, slated to debut in 2010. Toward that end, it is lining up lithium battery suppliers and most recently signed A123Systems (Watertown, Mass.).

Chevrolet is reportedly developing multiple versions of the Volt: One will combine a battery with an engine that runs on ethanol or gasoline; another will have a battery and hydrogen fuel cells.

Back to Bolivia. Little things like:

Bolivia Demands Full US Retraction

La Paz, Oct 9 (Prensa Latina) The Bolivian government insisted on Tuesday that US ambassador Philip Goldberg officially take back what he said about President Evo Morales' initiative of moving the UN headquarters to another country.


VALLEGRANDE, Bolivia, October 8.—Every year the thinking and actions of Argentine-Cuban revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara have greater relevance, affirmed Bolivian President Evo Morales on Monday, closing the national event commemorating the 40th anniversary of Che’s assassination.

More pertinent to this topic:

Bolivia: Evo Morales's Government Seizes Natural Gas and Oil Fields

Last updated 5.2.06

Bolivia Nationalizes Oil and Natural Gas Industry

In a move stirring controversy throughout the region, Evo Morales has brought Bolivia's energy production under state control. Yesterday, he gave foreign companies a six month ultimatum: renegotiate their contracts with the government or leave the country, and sent the military to occupy oil and gas fields throughout Bolivia. Bolivia has South America's second largest gas fields after Venezuela....Source

"I don't mind being a permanent nightmare for the United States."