Bolivia will get another chance to develop its US$875mn state lithium project, after failing to line up bidders in May, a government official said.
The process to line up a minority partner for the project in Potosí department is “highly complex” as the government has to evaluate lithium technology, markets, patents and legislation, deputy energy minister Luis Alberto Echazú said.
“We’re negotiating with German and Chinese consortiums, but there are also offers from other countries,” Echazú, who formerly headed state mining company Comibol’s lithium unit, told state news agency ABI. “But time is running out and these consortiums have the advantage.”
However, energy minister Rafael Alarcón told reporters that the government has pre-qualified 10 companies to bid and all have equal chances of winning the contract.
“In October we will have the economic proposals and will be able to determine which company will be awarded the construction for this project and we estimate we will give the green light to go ahead 30 days later,” said Alarcón.
State mining company Comibol has invested US$66.6mn to date in the 10,000km2 Salar de Uyuni project, which holds 70% of the world’s lithium resources. The government set about organizing a new bidding process for the project after no companies qualified for a May 10 bid round.
Bolivia has been trying to build a US$900mn lithium project at Uyuni for decades, but to date has only installed a pilot plant. The project is designed to produce 50,000t/y of lithium, in addition to potassium chloride and magnesium chloride. Germany’s K-Utec Technology is working on the plant’s final design.
Lithium is used to make batteries, while potassium chloride is used in the fertilizer and pharmaceutical industries and magnesium chloride is used in animal feed, textiles and cement. Argentina, Chile and the U.S. are also developing lithium projects.
TIN AND ZINC MINING OPERATIONS
In other mining news, Comibol plans to start construction on a US$77mn smelter at its Colquiri zinc-tin mining unit in April 2018, Colquiri general manager David Moreira said.
The 2,000t/d smelter, which would be 80%-financed by state development funding and the remainder by the company, would take two-and-a-half years to build, Moreira said in a statement. The company will call for bids to build the facility once it secures financing, he said.
Colquiri produced 8,671t zinc and 2,168t tin through the first seven months and is on track to post a US$20mn profit this year compared with a US$16mn profit in 2016 due to surging zinc prices, according to Moreira. Since 2012, Comibol has invested US$80mn in upgrades at the mine including a ramp and new drills to increase installed capacity to 1,300t/d from 900t/d, he said.
“Thanks to good mineral prices, we were able to make major investments during the first year,” Moreira said in the statement. “We’ve been able to improve working conditions, which has had a positive impact on production.”
Comibol last year announced plans to invest 120mn bolivianos (US$17mn) in exploration in 2017, part of a government drive to invest US$1.965bn in the mining and metallurgical industries by 2020.
Bolivia, which is home to mines operated by Pan American Silver, Sumitomo, Coeur Mining, Orvana Minerals and Franklin Mining, produced 20,135t tin, 485,352t zinc, 74,501t lead and 45.9Moz silver in 2015, the most recent available figure, according to the USGS.