Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Bolivia: The next Saudi Arabia

Here’s a little tidbit from the “I Did Not Know That” file: Bolivia sits on top of 70 to 80% of the world’s supply of lithium.

And this is important to know…why?

Take a look at the batteries in your mobile phone and laptop. I’ll bet dollars to your donuts they’re both lithium batteries.

Take a look at the specs of the soon-to-be-in-production Chevrolet Volt. It is powered by, you guessed it, lithium batteries.

It turns out lithium holds an electric charge longer than any metal yet discovered. It will be THE most sought-after element there is in our upcoming (and can’t come soon enough) move from fossil fuels to electricity (generated by…nuclear fission? wind? tide? fusion? all of the above?).

And here’s little, third world, basically socialist Bolivia, sitting on a whole shed load of it. Bolivia, right next door to Hugo Chavez’ Venezuela, where the nation’s most precious commodity (oil) has been nationalized.

The Bolivians are not oblivious to their impending good fortune. They are currently discussing the “To Nationalize or Not To Nationalize” question. They are distrustful of the US, mostly because of our past unwelcome interference in South American politics. Thus, the French, South Koreans, Japanese and, you better believe, the Chinese are swarming all over La Paz, President Eva Morales, and anyone with a smidge of influence in the Bolivian government.

The lithium is found primarily on the high Andean plain, in an area historically dirt poor and currently almost completely isolated from the rest of the world. Which all sounds a lot like the Arabian Peninsula in the 1930s or so, when the oil companies started to move in and build infrastructure.

The Bolivians are taking careful notes on just how the Arabs and their mates next door in Venezuela have managed to hang on to a substantial chunk of their oil revenues, and looking askance at countries like Mexico which have managed to screw themselves out of most of their own windfall. Expect the Bolivians to be pretty stiff negotiators. Further expect a lot of environmental hand-wringing and Power-To-The-People-style sentiment regarding the indigenous dirt farmers. And, since it’s the third world, expect a bit of Wild West – lots of corruption, violence, and double-crossing.

While the demise of oil spells doom for the Arabs, at least as a political force in this world, someone is going to take their place. At this point, Bolivia seems to be the odds-on favorite to be the power behind the soon-to-be-convened OLEC (Organization of Lithium Exporting Countries).

1 comment:

Daniel R. Elkin said...

With all that lithium, you would think the Bolivians would be a bit more even-tempered.....