El funcionario, en declaraciones a la Red Erbol, indicó que existen otros estudios que señalan que el país tiene el doble de las reservas certificadas; por ejemplo, un trabajo realizado por una universidad francesa en la década de los 90 revela que el salar de Uyuni tendría 8.000 millones toneladas de litio, lo que significa para el Estado boliviano una explotación e industrialización de este mineral durante 100 ó 200 años.
Preció que para la industrialización del litio se proyectó una inversión entre 250 a 300 millones de dólares, pero adicionalmente se deben realizar obras de infraestructura, tales como la instalación de energía industrial en el salar de Uyuni, conexiones de gas natural y mejoramiento de caminos, para lo cual se requerirá de otros 300 millones de dólares.
Villegas dijo que el Estado boliviano tiene la capacidad para generar una empresa que pueda hacerse cargo de la industrialización y comercialización del litio, porque es un recurso estratégico no sólo de interés para el país sino del mundo entero, porque se está hablando del cambio de la matriz energética de los automóviles, de un motor de combustión a un motor eléctrico.
“Tenemos la reserva, podemos contar con la tecnología que se está desarrollando actualmente, nos faltaría el dinero, para ello se tiene que ver alternativas financieras como Estado a fin de poder ir viendo la mejor forma de conseguir financiamiento”, puntualizó.
Declaró que a nivel de Estado se está generando una ingeniería financiera lo suficientemente atractiva para las instituciones u organismo que pueden otorgar el millonario financiamiento que requiere el proyecto de industrialización del litio.
Villegas dijo que al margen del litio, hay otras riquezas que están en los otros componentes de la salmuera, tales como el potasio, el boro y el magnesio, los cuales están siendo considerados para su explotación e industrialización en el proyecto que tiene gobierno en su fase piloto.
"La explotación de litio nos interesa, también vamos a trabajar con los ministerios respectivos sobre este problema. Ahora estamos preparando algunos documentos para el trabajo común en esta materia", declaró el diplomático a los medios.
El Gobierno boliviano prevé realizar en septiembre próximo una conferencia sobre el litio.
"Nosotros también queremos participar y evaluar en sitio, como se dice, todo lo que se refiere a la cooperación de Rusia en la explotación y producción de litio", añadió Golubev.
El litio boliviano se halla en el Salar de Uyuni (Potosí, sur), que tiene una superficie de 10.000 kilómetros cuadrados y una profundidad de hasta 220 metros.
En este yacimiento se encuentran, según el Gobierno boliviano, las mayores reservas mundiales de litio, metal necesario para fabricar baterías para los vehículos eléctricos.
El Estado boliviano ha construido en Uyuni una pequeña planta piloto para producir carbonato de litio en pequeñas cantidades, con el propósito de adquirir experiencia en la industria para luego ingresar a una fase de industrialización del metal.
Al igual que Rusia, la compañía francesa Bolloré, la surcoreana LG y las japonesas Sumitomo y Mitsubishi están interesadas en la explotación de este metal en Bolivia.
El Gobierno de Evo Morales insiste en que explotará por su cuenta el litio del Salar de Uyuni, si bien reconoce que necesitará socios para la fase de industrialización del metal.
En su forma pura, el litio es un metal blando, de color blanco plata, que se oxida rápidamente al aire o en el agua. El litio se encuentra disperso en ciertas rocas, pero nunca libre, dada su gran reactividad. Se encuentra en pequeña proporción en rocas volcánicas y sales naturales, como en el Salar de Uyuni y también en el Salar de Atacama, en Chile. Explotarlo económicamente no es nada fácil.
Grupos económicos de Japón, Corea del Sur y Europa hacen cola ya en Bolivia para acceder al litio del Salar de Uyuni, a 3.600 metros de altura, donde se suponen los más ricos yacimientos de litio del mundo.
Pero Evo Morales, el presidente boliviano, quiere evitar que las ganancias de la explotación del mineral vayan a parar sólo a los bolsillos de grupo extranjeros. Por otro lado, al país le faltan la tecnología, los conocimientos y el capital necesarios para explotar solo los yacimientos. Será un delicado acto de equilibrio. Bolivia quiere obtener el mejor precio posible por la materia prima del futuro.
Ya hay ofertas de cooperación de tres grupos económicos: Mitsubishi, Sumitomo y Bolloré. Pero no se ha firmado contrato alguno. Por ahora sólo se da una cooperación voluntaria. Pero está claro que las tres empresas quieren cerrar contratos lo antes posible con el Gobierno. También el gigante surcoreano LG Chem está interesado.
Mitsubishi es una de los mayores grupos económicos de Japón. Posee también numerosas filiales y cooperaciones que no llevan su nombre. Por ejemplo, parte de la Space Communications Corporation, el operador japonés de satélites de telecomunicaciones, son unas 30 subempresas de Mitsubishi.
El grupo Sumitono, también japonés, está conformado por unas dos docenas de empresas en las más variadas ramas económicas, desde químicas y eléctricas, pasando por un banco, hasta de construcción de automóviles.
Bolloré es un grupo francés, con una facturación anual de unos 5.400 millones de euros y más de 33.000 empleados en todo el mundo. Entre sus áreas de actividades se cuentan la industria petrolera, la del papel y la logística. Junto con Électricité de France (20 %), Bolleré (80 %) creó la empresa BatScap, que desarrolla baterías de litio-polímeros y planea fabricar autos eléctricos. El primer proyecto de coche eléctrico es el Bluecar.
Las reservas estimadas por la Dirección de Recursos Evaporíticos de la Corporación Minera de Bolivia (Comibol) ascienden a 350 millones de toneladas, de las cuales se pueden extraer 140 millones. A un precio de 3.000 dólares por toneladas, se trata de un volumen de negocios, sólo por la extracción y venta del mineral, de 429.000 millones de dólares.
La obtención de litio exige, sin embargo, muchos conocimientos, inversiones y tiempo. En el Salar de Uyuni, el mineral se halla debajo de una dura capa de sal. Para analizar las posibilidades de exportar el mineral, el Gobierno aprobó una inversión de seis millones de dólares en una planta piloto, que comenzará a producir experimentalmente carbonato de litio en 2010.
En la planta piloto se ensayarán diferentes procesos de producción, que actualmente son investigados en Bolivia y en Japón. La idea es dejar de ser productor sólo de materia prima y agregar valor al producto, por ejemplo, fabricando baterías para vehículos, entre otros productos.
Se prevé que a partir de 2014 el país estaría listo en todo caso para exportar el carbonato de litio y buscar un socio para la industrialización. Ante la situación de no conseguir socios concretos, el Ejecutivo no ha descartado realizar solo la explotación. Sin embargo, es consciente de que necesitará apoyo: “Necesitamos la tecnología para fabricar baterías y nosotros estamos atrasados años luz en esto, es por eso que necesitamos un socio”, subrayó Beltrán en medios bolivianos.
Lomiko to Purchase 100% of Chile Lithium Property
Lomiko Metals Inc. announces it has purchased 100% of 8 pedimentos (claims) making up 1900 Ha of the Chilean Salt Lake known as Salar de Aguas Calientes. The Company now owns eight (8) of nine (9) claims that make up the Salar. One (1) claim of 400 Ha is currently owned by Sociedad Quimica y Minera de Chile S.A. (SQM), the primary producer of Lithium in the region. A Google Earth image and claim map of the salar is available at www.lomiko.com.
The Board of Directors approved the purchase based on the following criteria:
– The Claims are in an excellent location adjacent to a main paved highway.
– The Salar has significant surface brines known to contain Lithium.
– The brines located on Lomiko claims were staked because of their excellent porosity and transmissivity(i), which is required for economic extraction.
– The claims purchased surround a mining concession held by Sociedad Quimica y Minera de Chile S.A. (SQM) at Lomiko’s Salar de Aguas Calientes.(i)
– Producers such as SQM are searching for new sources of Lithium to meet or increase production requirements to meet current and anticipated market demand.
– The claims are within 70 km of the SQM production facility located at Salar de Atacama.
– The potential for partnership exists with SQM, the leading producer in the region.
– The Current market for Lithium Ion batteries is anticipated to grow 25% per year.
– The introduction of the electric car powered by Lithium Ion batteries will require new development of high grade Lithium Deposits to meet additional demand.
– The ‘Lithium Triangle’ located at the borders of Chile, Argentina and Bolivia contains 70% of the world’s economic Lithium deposits.
– Forbes Magazine referred to the region as the "Saudi Arabia of Lithium".
(i) "The Salar de Atacama is the highest quality Lithium deposit in the world. As a brine source, extraction is much less expensive and less energy intensive than from hard rock minerals. The concentration of Lithium in the brine is the highest in the world and the rate of natural evaporation in the Atacama Desert is the highest in the world. In absolute size the Salar de Atacama is the second largest single deposit but is the largest deposit in terms of its economically recoverable Lithium content. Seismic surveys of the Salar de Atacama carried out in the 1970s showed that the highest porosity extends to a depth of 20 – 25m with some additional lower porosity halite down to 35m. Below this depth, salt cores show complete recrystallisation of the halite into a solid mass, devoid of any pores. This means there is no Lithium to extract below the current pumping depth, only solid rock salt. Only the upper 30m has high transmissivity, i.e. only in this region can brine flow relatively freely to refill the areas from where it is pumped out. Below the current extraction depth of 30 metres, there is no Lithiumin the Salar de Atacama."
Will Bolivia Board the Lithium Express?
Bolivia finds itself in the middle of a struggle for controlling and exploiting a key natural resource for the future of the world’s auto industry: lithium. Underneath the Salar de Uyuni, a salt desert in the southwest region of the Andean country, lie approximately 5.4 million metric tons of the resource. The deposits represent almost half of the world’s lithium reserves. American, Chinese, French, South Korean, and Japanese companies have expressed interest in a slice of the pie. But Bolivian President Evo Morales has made clear that his government, while looking for foreign investment, does not plan to give away sole exploitation contracts to any foreign company. His plans involve a state-run initiative to harvest the mineral deposits and manufacture batteries for electronics and, eventually, the world’s nascent electric vehicle market.
Unfortunately, Morales plans are easier said that done. The Salar de Uyuni in the department of Potosi has limited infrastructure to effectively mine the lithium deposits. As reported by newspaper La Rázon, Bolivia’s Mining Minister Luis Alberto Echazú acknowledged that the country hopes to move forward with the mining operation on its own but still needs a foreign partner to industrialize the battery production. “We need the technology to fabricate car batteries because we are still light-years away from it, that’s why we need a partner,” said Echazú.
Bolivia’s history of nationalizing foreign assets and breaking contracts with energy companies since Morales won the presidency in 2006 may seem like a deterrent for foreign investors. Yet companies like France’s Bolloré, Japan’s Sumitomo and Mitsubishi, South Korea’s LG, and even General Motors (before it declared bankruptcy) wooed Morales’ administration in search of agreements. The Times of London chronicles the competition between Chinese and Japanese delegations in Bolivia, which included donations to build a school in Morales’ hometown and military equipment. Still some preoccupation looms in investor’s minds, as demonstrated in dealings with the state-owned Yacimientos Petrolíferos Bolivianos (YPFB). After YPBF took over the natural gas and oil industries, production has dropped and corruption scandals have flourished.
But while debate persists in Bolivia, other countries have geared up to serve as suppliers in the upcoming lithium boom. Enter Chile, the leading lithium producer and holder of the world’s largest reserves, estimated at 7.5 million metric tons. U.S. Geological Survey expert Brian Jaskula said that more recent studies have reaffirmed Chile as the world leader. He also noted that, given Bolivia’s lack of infrastructure to commercially produce lithium, it may “end up missing the lithium express.” Other considerable lithium reserves are located in Argentina, China, and the United States.
The international pressure to secure access to this new commodity will likely increase in the next decade thanks to Washington’s push for lower emission electric vehicles powered by lithium polymer batteries. The U.S. Energy Department is offering up to $1.5 billion in federal grants for American companies to produce these new batteries and related components. Furthermore, the government is set to release on June 23 $25 billion to the car industry for the development of fuel-efficient cars.
Japan plans complaint on S. Korea lithium rule
Japan is set to complain to the WTO this week over a South Korean plan to tighten safety regulations on lithium-ion batteries, accusing Seoul of protectionism, a report said Monday.
“We will voice our concern at a committee meeting on technical barriers to trade” at the World Trade Organization this week, Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Toshihiro Nikai was quoted as saying by Jiji Press news agency.
The committee meets Thursday and Friday in Geneva.
South Korea is reportedly planning to introduce new rules from July 1 on the production and sale of products using lithium-ion batteries, requiring certificates from designated South Korean inspectors.
Foreign manufacturers fear the new process, which comes after some of the batteries have overheated or exploded in recent years, could significantly delay the launch of their products in South Korea.
The certification system could hamper Japanese companies who hold a 60 percent share in the global market of lithium-ion batteries, which are used in electronics including cellphones, digital cameras and laptops.
“The criteria for obtaining certification aren’t particularly clear,” a Japanese government official was quoted as saying by the Yomiuri Shimbun daily.
EnerDel Awarded $3.3 Million For Safety Research on Auto Lithium-ion Battery
Advanced lithium-ion automotive battery developer EnerDel has been awarded up to $3.3 million for a cost-share research project under the U.S. Department of Energy. This will be the largest of a set of new projects announced under DOE’s Vehicle Technologies Program, and will focus on the development of innovative technologies to eliminate overcharging in lithium-ion cells.
The program is separate from the Department’s Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing loan program and Advanced Battery Manufacturing Initiative grant program, where Ener1 also has applications pending for large-scale expansion of its domestic manufacturing capacity.
"EnerDel is deeply committed to the continuous improvement of advanced lithium-ion automotive battery technology," said EnerDel CEO Ulrik Grape. "This award by the Department of Energy will help us enhance the reliability, safety and performance characteristics of lithium-ion batteries and widen their scope of commercial application."
The project will be conducted jointly with Argonne National Laboratories in Chicago and will focus on a new chemical additive that acts as a "shuttle agent" to effectively cap the voltage of the cell. The additive transports the charge through the cell once the desired voltage is reached. Overcharging cells in pack systems is normally monitored with voltage monitoring circuits. Refining this at the base chemistry level of the cell will vastly improve reliability and overall pack efficiency.
"This project gives us the opportunity to work with our partners at EnerDel to push the boundaries of next-generation battery technology, to produce tangible benefits for the industry and ultimately the consumer," said Khalil Amine, senior scientist and manager of the advanced battery technology group at Argonne.
The close relationship between EnerDel and Argonne is setting the standard for collaboration with the U.S. national research laboratories. The lithium-titanate chemistry which EnerDel combines with a lithium manganese oxide spinel-based cathode for its hybrid electric vehicle offering was originally developed in partnership with Argonne, and recently received the Excellence in Technology Transfer award.
"It is unquestionably the safest, among the most reliable and lowest cost lithium-ion battery on the market for HEVs," Amine said.
In total, seven projects under this program were awarded by the DOE ranging from $500,000 to $3.3 million and will be conducted over the next three years. All of them will focus on aspects of improving battery material performance or decreasing cost.
IBM working on battery breakthrough
IBM announced today that it is developing a next-generation rechargeable battery capable of storing 10 times more energy than today’s top .
The new batteries could be used to power cars and smart energy grids, according to IBM.
The company said it plans to discuss its work on the batteries at its , which IBM said attracts "innovative thinkers" from academia, government research labs and industry. The 2009 gathering will be held on Aug. 26 and Aug. 27 at the IBM Almaden Research Center in San Jose.
"High-density, scalable energy storage technologies are emerging as the greatest game changer for this new era of renewable energy sources and smarter grids," said Sharon Nunes, vice president of organization, in a statement. "Today, the vast majority of the world’s oil is burned for transportation. Energy sources, such as wind and solar power, fluctuate continuously. We believe the solution may lie in the development of an efficient, affordable energy storage network."
IBM also will be using nanotechnology, along with materials science and super computing in the multi-year battery research project.
"Being able to store large amounts of electrical energy in a small package is critically important," said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group Inc. "If we can’t get higher energy densities in our batteries, then true electric cars are a non-starter."
And Olds added that better batteries also are the key to advancing wind, solar, and tidal power.
"We can certainly generate energy from these sources, but the wind doesn’t blow all the time and we also have 12 hours of night," he said. "Without better storage technology, energy from these sources is a use-it-or-lose-it proposition. Generating it is only half the battle. Efficiently storing it for use when we need it is the key for making alternative energy actually pay off."
The IBM project is only the latest of several disclosed in recent months.
In April, reported that they were combining nanotechnology with genetically engineered viruses that could power hybrid cars and cell phones. According to the university, the viruses, which infect bacteria but are harmless to humans, build the positively and negatively charged ends of . In lab tests, batteries with the new material could be charged and discharged at least 100 times without losing any capacitance, MIT reported.
And before that, researchers at Stanford University reported using to enable lithium-ion batteries to hold 10 times the charge they could before. That means a laptop that now holds a four-hour charge could last for 40 hours using the new battery, according to Yi Cui, assistant professor of materials science and engineering at Stanford.
Michigan faces fierce competition in race to be world’s battery capital
Just a couple of years ago, Cobasys LLC of Oakland County’s Orion Township seemed like the gleaming, silver edge of a prized toy in an old-fashioned Cracker Jack box.
Founded by a former General Motors chief, Cobasys supplied the nickel-metal hydride batteries for the hybrid version of the Chevrolet Malibu. And there was economic warfare going on between Michigan and Ohio, with Cobasys as the prize. Tax abatements were given, state help offered, infrastructure support thrown in, along with money for job training. With frustrations over Cobasys in mind, there was some discussion in Michigan government and economic circles over how Ohio appeared to offer better incentives for companies than Michigan.
It is now two years, and an economic and technological lifetime, later. Nickel-metal hydride batteries are largely viewed as yesterday’s technology. The hybrid Malibu? That’s history. And Cobasys is getting ready to file for bankruptcy protection.
In today’s climate, what seems like a desperate battleground for state technological and economic survival one year can look like a very dated, silly issue the next. But one positive thing has remained with us as a result: Michigan is now all set with goody-bags-full of incentives for battery companies that want to set up shop, or expand, in Michigan.
Look out, Ohio. And Indiana. And Kentucky. Yes, they all have dreams of becoming the center of the U.S. lithium-ion battery industry, too — possibly throwing a wrench in Michigan’s plan for automotive battery dominance.
Companies and technologies — no matter how promising they appear — come and go. That’s why private investors are urged to diversify. But cash-strapped governments betting on their future cannot afford to. Nickel metal hydride is definitely out. Corn ethanol was last year’s news. Now, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm has visions of this state reviving itself as “the world’s epicenter for automotive research and design … literally redesigning the entire notion of the automobile.” Or, at the very least, “what we want to do is be the domestic place where batteries are produced,” Granholm wrote late last month.
It appears that Michigan, this time around, is at least focusing on the right technology at the right time.
Companies like lithium-ion battery developer Sakti3 in Ann Arbor are living off of venture capital funding but are eager for government funding in order to survive. They will develop their technology in the direction government wants them to go. And everybody from the Obama administration on down has decided that government incentives and funding will focus around development of lithium-ion batteries for hybrid and electric vehicles. Funding for hydrogen fuel cell development has been cut at the federal level. The energy secretary says that it’s just too far away from being ready for prime time.
David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, agrees with both the focus of Michigan’s big technological and economic push and with the aspirations of Michigan’s governor. After all, with leading battery companies like A123 Systems and LG Chemical with branches in Michigan, the state at least has a shot.
“You might as well start out with some really significant players,” Cole said. “And that’s exactly where we are right now in this state.”
Cole said Michigan’s main thrust is actually in two areas. Lithium-ion batteries are getting most of the media coverage, but the state is also pushing non-food biofuels. We’re not talking about corn ethanol, but companies like Boston-based Mascoma, which can make cellulosic ethanol from a number of different kinds of feedstocks. The company is working on a plant in Michigan’s Upper Penninsula that will turn wood chips into fuel.
A good way to illustrate how to combine both of Michigan’s thrusts — lithium-ion batteries and non-food biofuels — is to look at the planned hybrid electric Chevy Volt. If you operate it on a mix of E-85 (15 percent gasoline, 85 percent alcohol) the effective mpg of the gasoline in the fuel is 400.
“When you combine those two technologies,” Cole said, “you really can end up with some game-changing capability.”
It all sounds great on paper, but that still leaves the question of whether Michigan can become, as the governor wants, the leader in these technologies rather than simply one more player.
Indiana recently signed a deal to bring lithium-ion battery developer EnerDel to its borders in a deal that could bring more than 850 new jobs.
And Ohio still is a thorn in Michigan’s side … or lower.
Recently, BASF — the world’s largest chemical company — proposed construction of one of North America’s largest lithium-ion battery material production plants in Elyria, Ohio. The plant would make use of technology licensed to BASF from Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois. Plant construction would be made possible thanks to a Recovery Act grant through the U.S. Department of Energy. If all the chips fall into place, the new plant would represent the highest ideals behind Obama’s stimulus plan, not to mention public-private partnerships coming together to create jobs and move cutting-edge technology from the lab to the marketplace.
And none of it would happen in Michigan.
This is not to minimize Michigan’s own respectable public-private partnerships between academic institutions, automakers and private industry. However, even the optimistic governor should be aware that the state is not only competing with Asia in building a lithium-ion battery infrastructure, but with neighboring states with ambitions just as sweeping.
There is, however, one important difference: Michigan, as far as it has fallen from grace as the center of automotive manufacturing, still has further to fall if it is not careful.
Cole calls the lithium-ion battery push the “offensive” side of Michigan’s plan for economic revival. What he calls the “defensive” can also be categorized under “be careful what you wish for.” An all-electric drive means some major retooling in the auto industry.
“If we get electrification of the powertrain — if that goes big — the impact on the transmission business, the general powertrain business here could be hit very, very hard,” Cole said. “We could lose some very important manufacturing and we would at least want the replacement manufacturing being here rather than someplace else.”
So, in Michigan, everybody’s talking about batteries. But what they’re really talking about, compared with competing states with similar aspirations, is a much bigger chunk of Michigan’s future.
Will the state win the battery war?
“That remains to be seen,” Cole said. “We certainly have a shot at it. This is not something that’s out of the realm of possibility.”
These days, that will have to do.