Bolivia hires ACI Systems for its first lithium factory

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The Ministry of Energy of Bolivia has announced that German firm, ACI Systems GmbH has been chosen as a partner for the industrialization of Bolivian lithium, a process that includes the construction of a battery manufacturing plant. The final products will be exported to Europe, mainly to the automotive sector.

Bolivia is home to what is considered to be the world’s largest lithium reserve, the Salar de Uyuni, which covers an area of around 10,500 km2.

In order to carry out the exploitation and initial processing of the lithium, the government has formed the Bolivian State Lithium Deposits (YLB) company, the chief executive of which, Juan Carlos Montenegro, met last week with President Evo Morales to review the results of the evaluation of the expressions of interest by eight firms from China (5), Canada (1), Germany (1) and Russia (1) to undertake the project.

Initially, the shortlisted bidders were the German and Russian Uranium One Group, part of the Russian state Atomic energy corporation, Rosatom, which is currently building Bolivia’s Center for Research and Development in Nuclear Technology in the city of El Alto.

According to the Ministry, the agreement includes the production of lithium hydroxide based on residual brine and the construction in Bolivia of a plant for the manufacturing of industrial cathode materials and batteries, which will be shipped to the European market, specifically to the e-mobility industry.

The state-owned lithium company, created through an ad hoc law in April 2017, is set to have at least two subsidiaries with which ACI Systems will form a joint venture. It will hold a majority share of 51% in them.

Construction on the Bolivian manufacturing plant is expected to begin this month, and should be completed in around 18 months.

The German company plans to invest approximately $1.3 billion in the project. The investment of the Bolivian counterpart is estimated at $900 million and, according to the first calculations of the German experts, and reported by the Ministry, the “gross income” for annual sales will be $1,200 million.

The plant is expected to come into operation in 2019, with an initial capacity of 5,000 annual metric tons. This could scale up to 15,000 tons in the future.