Lithium Mining in Bolivia

Salar De Uyuni, Bolivia.

A vast patch of white that can be seen from space, which one can mistake for an icy glacier, across the lower South American continent is the southern Bolivia's Salar De Uyuni, is the world's largest salt flat - an expansive desert of over ten billion tons of salt covering nearly 5,000 square miles.

It is located in the Potosí and Oruro departments in southwest Bolivia, near the crest of the Andes, and is elevated 3,656 meters (11,995 ft.) above mean sea level.

It is covered by a few meters of salt crust, which has an extraordinary flatness across the entire area of the Salar and contains 50 to 70% of the world's lithium reserves, which is in the process of being extracted.

Before people and their ancestors started to harvest salt here for hundreds of years, the salt plain has remained a largely forgotten corner of one of the most remote and inaccessible plateaus in the world; a destination for bewildered travellers heading to the Chilean border the long way from the Bolivian capital, La Paz.

Many start to work in the salt field from a very young age of 6-9. Mining salt is difficult and it is a back breaking work done almost entirely by hand. The upper salt crust must be broken with a pick until you can see water. Then you stack the salt in mounts to dry it in the sun. To load a truck with dried salt it takes 10 to 12 thousand shovel-fulls and hours of man labour.

But the real treasure of Uyuni's plain is not salt, the real treasure hidden in billions tons of white crystals is lithium. The light metal that is the most important component in making batteries.

This element, the white gold, could make Bolivia rich. As the salt plain contains the largest lithium reserves on the planet. The price for this white-silvery metal is already up 400% over the past few years and keeps rising.

Lithium at Bolivia's Salar De Uyuni is highly diluted across plains, requiring extensive extraction operations and water in a dry land. Bolivia has already begun extracting lithium carbonate from the salt flats using simple techniques. Nearly 5.5 million tons. Bolivia's natural treasures have always been in demand but most profits from copper, gold and silver have gone to foreign countries. Lithium mining is the first industry that Bolvia's president wants to keep national, including all stages of the production process. Mining it with as little foreign involvement as possible would keep the profits and benefits in Bolivia.

Estimated that over 650 million euros is to be invested in the project. The plan is to make Bolivia a new developing center for the new forms of energy. But it remains unclear, as many people have doubts, whether Bolivia can develop this resource without foreign capital and modern mining experience.