Road to Electric Cars Runs Through Bolivia

Nationalism, socialism may make its lithium supply hard to tap
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 3, 2009 9:13 AM CST
Miners finish their shift at 27 de Marzo cooperative mine in Potosi, southern Bolivia, Oct. 24, 2008.   (AP Photo)
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(Newser) – Are we about to replace our dependence on foreign oil with a dependence on foreign lithium? Almost half the world’s supply of the mineral—essential for the light, rechargeable batteries electric cars need—is found in Bolivia, where nationalist sentiment is running high, the New York Times reports. Evo Morales’ government is closely controlling the supply, rebuffing Japanese and European efforts to tap it.

Indigenous groups also want a cut; the new constitution passed last month may give Indians control over natural resources in their territory. “We know that Bolivia can become the Saudi Arabia of lithium,” said one farmer from the salt flats where lithium is found. “We are poor, but we are not stupid peasants. The lithium may be Bolivia’s, but it is also our property.”