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EnergyX Withdraws From The Bolivian Lithium Competition

Aria Thomas

Jun 09, 2022 11:21


The Bolivian government has eliminated the American startup EnergyX and the Argentine energy company Tecpetrol from the race to mine lithium in Bolivia, as the country seeks to exploit its massive resources in conjunction with one or more foreign firms.

Bolivia has the world's greatest lithium reserves, but it has battled for decades to extract them commercially. In response to a boom in demand for batteries for electric vehicles, Bolivia increased its mining operations last year.

There are still six companies bidding for a collaboration. Among them are Russia's Uranium One, the U.S. firm Lilac Solutions - financed by BMW and Bill Gates' Breakthrough Energy Ventures - and the Chinese battery manufacturer CATL. The remaining companies are Chinese: Fusion Enertech, TBEA Co., Ltd., and CITIC Guoan Group Co.

None of the companies had previously used lithium on a commercial basis.

Bolivia did not provide an explanation for why EnergyX and Tecpetrol were excluded. The administration announced on Tuesday that it anticipated announcing the full results of the evaluation on June 15.

Nonetheless, EnergyX was arguably the most significant rival, having launched production testing at a lithium extraction pilot facility on Bolivia's Uyuni salt flat in this year. It has also courted Bolivian leaders and advertised their technology on Bolivian television.

EnergyX has recently appointed Juan Carlos Barrera to handle South American operations. Barrera is a former top executive at one of the world's leading lithium producers, SQM of Chile.

EnergyX refused to comment on the methodology. Tecpetrol did not respond to a request for comment immediately.

Legal constraints that now hinder private enterprises from extracting lithium from Bolivia's reserves are among the key obstacles that remain to be overcome.

Bolivia lags behind Chile - the world's No. 2 producer - and Argentina - which has a promising pipeline of new projects - in terms of lithium reserves.