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Dreams of a Lithium Empire

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Science  18 Nov 2011:
Vol. 334, Issue 6058, pp. 896-897
DOI: 10.1126/science.334.6058.896

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A giant prehistoric lake in Bolivia holds the planet's largest reserve of lithium, the key ingredient for lithium-ion batteries. Bolivia wants to extract lithium to power the world's future electric vehicles, and Belgian nuclear engineer Guillaume Roelants leads this nation's quest. Mitsubishi, LG, Lithium Corporation of America, and more have all tried to make inroads here. But Evo Morales—the first indigenous president—has decided Bolivia will develop the industry on its own: state control, with Roelants at the scientific helm. Critics, from Japan to the United States, say Bolivia is squandering its good fortune: The country ought to bring in foreign experts and capital to master the lake's complicated brine and environment.

  • * Jean Friedman-Rudovsky is a print and radio journalist based in La Paz, Bolivia.