US company EnergyX out of race for lithium in Bolivia

Written by Marcelo Rochabon

(Reuters) – The government, which intends to exploit its vast resources in partnership with one or more foreign companies, said that US companies Energy X and Argentina’s Techpetrol have been excluded from participating in the upcoming lithium race in Bolivia.

Bolivia has the world’s largest lithium resource, but it has struggled for decades to exploit it commercially. And last year it stepped up its efforts in the face of the growing demand for electric car batteries.

Six companies are still vying for the partnership. They are Russia’s Uranium One, Chinese battery giant Catel and US-based Lilac Solutions, backed by German carmaker BMW and Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures.

Other Chinese companies include Fusion Enertech, TBEA Co Ltd, and CITIC Guoan Group Co.

None of these companies has yet exploited lithium on a commercial scale.

The government has not explained why EnergyX and Tecpetrol are being excluded. On Tuesday, he said he expected final results to be announced on June 15.

Perhaps the highlight of the race, however, was EnergyX, which fired a pilot to extract lithium in the Uyuni salt flat in Bolivia earlier this year, while airing an advertisement on Bolivian television to showcase its technology.

The company recently hired Juan Carlos Barrera to oversee operations in South America. Barrera is a former senior executive of SQM in Chile, one of the world’s largest lithium producers.

EnergyX declined to comment on the process. Tecpetrol did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Bolivia still faces significant obstacles to extracting lithium resources, including legal restrictions that currently prevent private companies from extracting it.

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South America has the largest reserves of lithium in the world, but Bolivia comes after Chile – the second largest producer in the world – and Argentina, which has a promising set of new projects.

(Reporting by Marcelo Rochabon, translated by Daniel Ramos. Editing by Eliana Razusky)

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