Bolivia will receive a $2.9 million Chinese-made pilot plant for manufacturing lithium-ion batteries in the next few weeks, with production expected to start up in the second half of this year, a government official said.
The pilot plant will be shipped in the next few days and should arrive in the South American country in March, Corporacion Minera de Bolivia official Luis Alberto Echazu told state media.
The plant will be used to train Bolivian technicians, who will learn how to operate an industrial plant that will be constructed in the future.
The project is part of a government plan to develop the Uyuni Salt Flat, located in the southwestern Andean province of Potosi, on its own to produce batteries for electric cars, computers and cell phones.
President Evo Morales is promoting the development of the lithium industry without foreign partners, but he proposed a partnership with Japan last week to manufacture electric cars in Bolivia that would use domestically made lithium-ion batteries.
Lithium-ion batteries are used to power a range of electronic devices, including cellphones, laptops and digital audio players.
The Uyuni Salt Flat, a dried-up sea bed that stretches over a more than 10,000-sq.-kilometer (some 4,000-sq.-mile) area, is the world’s largest reserve of the planet’s lightest metal.
The Bolivian government says the salt flat contains 100 million tons of lithium reserves, although the U.S. Geological Survey puts the figure at just 9 million tons.
The Morales administration has been working since 2009 to install a pilot plant to make lithium carbonate at Uyuni and its goal is to show results in “industrializing” the metal before 2014.
Specialists, however, have repeatedly criticized the government’s project, citing a lack of significant progress toward installation of a lithium-ion battery plant.