Bolivia building power line to Uyuni lithium project

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Thursday, November 9, 2017

Bolivia's state electricity company Ende is moving ahead with power supply infrastructure for the long-delayed US$900mn state lithium project, a senior government official said.

Work is underway on the Salar de Uyuni project's Litio and Salar substations and a 115kV transmission line linking the Uyuni salt flats with the power grid, energy minister Rafael Alarcón said.

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The infrastructure will supply electricity to the project's lithium carbonate and potassium chloride plants, state news agency ABI cited Alarcón as saying. Spain's Elecnor and Emias of Bolivia are also scheduled to finish work on a 60MW solar power plant at Uyuni by the end of the year, the minister added.

State mining company Comibol has invested US$66.6mn to date in the 10,000km2 Salar de Uyuni project, which holds 50-70% of the world's lithium reserves. The government is trying to organize a new bidding process for the project after no companies qualified for a bid round in May.

Bolivia has been trying to build a lithium project at Uyuni for decades, but to date has installed just a pilot plant. The project is designed to produce 50,000t/y of lithium, in addition to potassium chloride and magnesium chloride. Germany's K-Utec Technology is working on the plant's final design.

Lithium demand for batteries is expected to soar with the increased use of electric vehicles, while potassium chloride is used in the fertilizer and pharmaceutical industries and magnesium chloride is used in animal feed, textiles and cement. Argentina, Chile and the US are also developing lithium projects.

ECONOMY

Rising commodities prices will help drive 4.5% economic growth in Bolivia next year, finance minister Mario Guillén said. The government plans US$6.200bn in public investment in 2018, in addition to US$1.800bn for state companies, according to a statement on Comibol's website.

Bolivia's exports rose 8.8% to US$5.798bn through September as hydrocarbons sales abroad totaled US$1.942bn and mining exports brought in US$1.615bn, according to the statistics office

"The figures are solid," Guillén said in the statement. "We will have growth. By maintaining domestic demand, we'll be in a better situation."

President Evo Morales, meanwhile, threatened to expel the top US diplomat in Bolivia.

Morales claimed chargé d'affaires Peter Brennan planned a smear campaign against his government, according to local newspaper La Razón. Morales previously expelled US ambassador Philip Goldberg in 2008, alleging the embassy was meddling in Bolivia's internal affairs.

"The US embassy has planned to link our democratic cultural revolution with corruption and drug trafficking," La Razón cited Morales as saying. "I want the US chargé d'affaires to know that if he continues conspiring, I will not hesitate to expel him because we are a sovereign state."

Tensions with the US embassy have risen as Morales decided to seek a fourth straight mandate despite a referendum last year that rejected a constitutional amendment to allow that to happen.