Bolivia has chosen a Chinese consortium to be its strategic partner on new lithium, salt and other brine mineral projects. In early February, China’s Liu Jianfeng of Xinjiang TBEA Group signed an agreement with Juan Carlos Montenegro of Yacimientos de Litio Boliviano (YLB) – Bolivia’s state lithium company – and Jianlin He of America-Baocheng Desarrollo y Tecnologia del Salar towards development of the Coipasa and Pastos Grandes salt flats in Oruro, Bolivia for lithium.
Xinjiang TBEA Group will hold a 49% stake in a planned joint venture with YLB. Together, the companies will seek to produce lithium, salt, magnesium compounds and other brine minerals from the Coipasa and Pastos Grandes salt flats.
Bolivia estimates that development of the projects will cost at least US$2.3Bn. Montenegro (YLB’s executive manager) has confirmed that Xinjiang TBEA Group will provide initial investment and YLB will pay its share from future lithium production.
Xinjiang TBEA is reported to have beaten six rivals that also sought to partner with Bolivia on Coipasa and Pastos Grandes, including ACI, Uranium One – a subsidiary of Russia’s state nuclear company Rosatom – and the Irish company Clontarf Energy.
Bolivia has some of the world’s largest resources of lithium but has yet to produce it at a commercial scale. State-led plans to industrialise its lithium industry have faced repeated delays. The next step for Coipasa and Pastos Grandes will be to conduct feasibility studies. The world’s largest salt flat, Salar de Uyuni, is located in southwest Bolivia and is estimated to contain 10Bnt of salt; production of salt already occurs at Salar de Uyuni.
In 2017, the Bolivian government created the National Public Strategic Company for Evaporative Resources (NPSCER), which controls the production of lithium product in the country, taking over from state-owned mining company COMIBOL. The NPSCER renamed itself in 2017 to become YLB and has been assessing potential investments by Russian, German, Spanish and Chinese companies in developing lithium resources and downstream industry in the country. YLB had previously reported plans to commission two lithium compound facilities in Bolivia, the first a 15,000tpy LCE facility scheduled for production in 2019, with a second 25,000tpy LCE facility scheduled for commissioning by 2020.
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