Ahead of its presidential elections, Bolivia is keen to close Lithium deal with India

The government of Bolivia is making efforts to close a Lithium deal with India before the presidential elections in October.

Ahead of its presidential elections, Bolivia is keen to close Lithium deal with India
President Ram Nath Kovind was in a three-day visit to Bolivia in March this year. (Twitter photo)

The government of Bolivia, a landlocked nation surrounded by Peru, Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, and Chile is making efforts to close a Lithium deal with India before the presidential elections in October.

It is part of the “Lithium Triangle” with Chile and Argentina, where about 75% of the world’s Lithium comes from, given its abundance and high quality.

The South American nation is heading for presidential elections in October and President Evo Morales administration is looking at India for investments to manufacture Electric Vehicle (EV) batteries in India by using Bolivian Lithium. According to a top diplomat, the country plans to produce 15,000 tonnes in order to export, however, so far exports of Lithium Carbonate to India from Bolivia is nil.

If NITI Aayog policy recommends subsidies for the Lithium sector then Indian companies will be ready to explore investment opportunities. NITI Aayog expected to come with finalized subsidies announcement in the month of October. Automobile sector and battery manufacture already kept eye on Lithium Resources Countries and an already announced to set up Lithium-Ion Battery Plant in India.

As has been reported by Financial Express Online earlier, officials from Niti Aayog as well Khanij Bidesh India Ltd. had visited the Lithium Triangle countries earlier this year in an effort to identify opportunities for Lithium exploration and possible tie-ups with companies in these countries. The visit was a follow up to the visit of KABIL which was undertaken ahead of President Ramnath Kovind’s visit to Chile and Bolivia.

What is KABIL?

It is a consortium of three state-owned companies including National Aluminum Company (NALCO), Hindustan Copper (HCL) and Mineral Exploration Corp Ltd., (MECL). It has been formed under the directive of Ministry of Mines and the focus of the consortium is to look for strategic minerals globally and help in facilitating the process of acquisition, development and processing these minerals.

Why is Lithium important for India?

India needs this mineral as it is in the middle of setting up huge Lithium-ion battery plants. This will to achieve a target set to have all EVs on the Indian roads by 2030. These batteries are also urgently needed for solar panels as well as various space programs which have been outlined by Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

Where is it getting Lithium from?

Chile is currently the second-largest producer of the main ingredient of lithium-ion batteries after Australia. It produces 70,000 tonnes a year and Argentina 30,000 out of the 230,000- tonne Lithium market.

The Bolivian government claims that it has 70% of the world’s Lithium reserves and the most optimistic estimation is that there is 21 million metric tons of Lithium in Salar de Uyuni (Uyuni Salt Flats). The 4,000-square-mile Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat and unexploited Lithium (Li) deposit. Uyuni is a huge prehistoric lake on a high Andean plateau.

Bolivia already has a partnership with Germany’s ACI Systems GmbH, which is a member of the ACI Group based in Zimmern Ob Rottweil in southern Germany. Under this, the plan is to build Lithium Hydroxide and a cathodes/battery plant in Bolivia. Also, the two in January 2019, signed a deal to extract 40,000 tonnes of Lithium Hydroxide until 2092.

In February 2019, government-owned Yacimientos de Litio Bolivianos Corporación (YLB – Corporación) of Bolivia, signed a $2.3 billion deal with TBEA Group Co. Ltd. Of China to produce Lithium from the smaller Coipasa and Pastos Grandes salt flats. However, there are no clear estimates on how much Lithium these salt flats hold and the agreement does not specify about the producing of Lithium Oxides or other higher-value Lithium products.

Both India and Bolivia have agreed to forge mutually beneficial partnership to facilitate Bolivian supplies of lithium Carbonate to India and foster joint ventures for lithium battery production plants in India. And have also agreed to facilitate mechanisms for the commercialization of Lithium Carbonate and Potassium Chloride produced in Bolivia by YLB – Corporación.

Top engineers of YLB were recently in India for Electric Vehicle Summit 2019, and made presentations on how Indian companies could collaborate with them for setting up a battery plant in India.

India’s import of Lithium Carbonate is recorded $14.504 million between January – December 2018 from the across the globe and is continually importing Chilean Lithium Carbonate in huge quantities. For India, Chile is always the top exporter of Lithium Carbonate.

In Jan-Dec 2017 the import of Chilean Lithium by India was recorded at $5.063 million and in Jan-Dec 2018 Chilean Lithium Carbonate import dropped by 20.56% and was recorded at $4.022 million. While the US-based Lithium Carbonate imported by India in the same year was recorded at $4.975 million.

On the other hand, Bolivia has exported nearly $0.56 million value of Lithium Carbonate to the world in 2018. And has exported to China $0.35 million and the USA $0.22 million, and so far there are no exports of Lithium Carbonate to India.

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First published on: 26-07-2019 at 19:46 IST