Bolivia’s government on Wednesday declined to name which of six short-listed companies it would select to help mine its untapped lithium riches, with the chief of the country’s state-run lithium company saying more than one could be eventually selected.
The government had already postponed a final announcement on its selection last month, amid high hopes the private partners can help jumpstart lithium extraction in Bolivia’s sprawling salt flats, home to the world’s largest deposits of the white metal.
Despite decades of attempts, Bolivia has yet to achieve any commercial lithium production despite demand for the metal having surged in recent years.
“It could be that there is more than one company that can support this industrialization process. The objective is to move for the industrialization of lithium in a way that could work with more than one company,” said Carlos Ramos, head of Yacimientos de Litio Bolivianos (YLB).
“Investments for the plants will be determined based on each of the technologies” the companies can offer, he added.
The government narrowed down the final selection from eight to six suitors earlier this month, after disqualifying American startup EnergyX and Argentine energy firm Tecpetrol.
However, the landlocked country still faces steep challenges to meet its target of producing lithium-ion batteries locally by 2025.
A Reuters report last month highlighted the technological challenges, social resistance, legal obstacles and political scrambles undermining Bolivia’s extractions plans.
Meanwhile, none of the short-listed firms have exploited lithium at a commercial scale before.
(By Daniel Ramos, Isabel Woodford and David Alire Garcia; Editing by David Gregorio)