Hybrid Car Future Hinges on Bolivia’s Lithium

By dancurranjr On February 11th, 2009

evo-moralesThe next generation of hybrid and electric cars depends on lithium ion batteries—but the world’s biggest supply of lithium is controlled by a socialist country with no great love for the United States.
Evo Morales hopes Bolivia’s lithium reserves will allow it to join an exclusive club of countries like Venezuela and Saudi Arabia, whose natural resources make them indispensable to the global energy future.
When representatives from the Obama administration visited the Washington Auto Show yesterday, their message was clear: The President hopes to make the United States a major player in lithium ion battery technology and manufacturing. Backing up their words is $2 billion of stimulus money that the administration wants to dedicate to the development of advanced batteries for fuel-efficient cars.
Lithium ion batteries—which can pack more energy and power with less weight and space—are seen as the key to the next generation of hybrid and electric cars. And those battery-powered vehicles, in turn, are seen as the key to reducing American’s dependence on foreign oil and reducing carbon emissions from vehicles. As global car companies and battery makers scramble to take the lead on this technology, there’s a question of where the lithium carbonate that makes these batteries possible will come from, and at what cost. That may dictate whether or not hybrids and EVs ever become more than niche products.
Bolivia says it hopes to one day be the world’s leading producer of lithium, and with at least 73 million metric tons waiting to be mined, the country is positioned to follow through. Representatives from Toyota, Mitsubishi, Sumitomo, and Bollore—a French electric car maker—have all contacted the Bolivian government in the hopes of hammering out agreements to buy the raw material.

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