Bolivian Lithium: $1.4-Billion Investments from Russia and China

The Russian holding Uranium Ore Group is investing 578 million dollars in the production of lithium carbonate – the basic material for manufacturing rechargeable batteries and many other electronic components. Another 857 million will come from the Chinese CITIC Guoan.

Uranium Ore Group, the international holding regulated by the Russian state atomic energy agency Rosatom, and the Bolivian public company Yacimientos Der Litio de Bolivia (Ylb) signed a $578-million framework agreement to build an industrial complex for extraction and production of lithium carbonate at the Pastos Grandes salt marshes, located in the southwest Andean department of Potosi.

According to the press release by La Paz authorities published yesterday, “the new joint Russian-Bolivian project will allow Bolivia, a country with the richest lithium reserves in the world, to launch a complete technological chain, from extraction to production of a commercial product.” Kirill Komarov, the foreign relations director of Rosatom, stated that this agreement opens “new prospects” for a long-term cooperation between Russia and Bolivia. “For the Rosatom agency, this is the first major foreign project in the field of lithium production. With an investment of nearly 600 million dollars, we expect to have a modern industrial complex built, capable of producing 25,000 tons of lithium carbonate per year, which is 6% of global production, with the possibility of increasing the production capacity after the future geological studies,” said Komarov to RIA Novosti.

The Chinese company CITIC Guoan, with strong state participation, will also cooperate with Ylb on another lithium carbonate production factory.

The start of mass production of electric cars, laptops, and smartphones has increased the global demand for lithium, the number one alkaline metal in recent years. Lithium production became extremely important for its use in rechargeable lithium-ion batteries in means of transportation and reusable energy storage system. In addition, lithium is widely used in the pharmaceutical industry. The Lithium-7 isotope is utilized in nuclear energy for inhibiting the corrosion of construction materials in PWR nuclear reactors (pressurized water reactors).

According to Bolivian newspapers, “the official ceremony of signing the agreements with Russia and China was attended by Bolivian, Chinese, and Russian representatives of the three companies.” In January last year, Bolivia signed another agreement with the Chinese consortium Catl Brunp & Cmoc (Cbc) on building two factories for lithium battery production. CBC announced that the investment amount of this project would be at least one billion dollars. According to sources in Bolivia, the Russian Uranium One Group is investing 578 million dollars in the factory at the Pastos Grandes salt marshes, and the Chinese Citic Guoan is investing another 857 million dollars in the second factory, north of the Uyuni salt marshes, both located in Potosi, southwest Andes.

Bolivia estimated the lithium reserves in the Uyuni salt marshes to exceed 21 million tons and guarantees that it is the largest in the world.

But Bolivia alone cannot start lithium production for the lack of adequate advanced technology.

The Russian group Uranium Ore announced that the first phase of the factory will be launched as early as 2024, reaching full-scale production of 25,000 tons in 2027.

Thanks to the agreements with Russia and China, La Paz intends to export five million dollars worth of lithium by 2025. Until now, the main source of revenue for Bolivia was natural gas export, which brought 3.4 billion dollars into the state treasury in 2022.