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China, Bolivia agree to $2.3 billion investment in lithium joint venture

Santiago, Chile β€” A Chinese consortium is planning to invest $2.3 billion to produce lithium and other minerals in Bolivia under a deal signed with the Bolivian government Tuesday.

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Under the preliminary agreement, TBEA Group-Baocheng will begin initial studies to form a joint venture with Bolivian state lithium producer YLB to build and operate a series of plants to produce the minerals from the Coipasa and Pastos Grandes salt flats in western Bolivia, the government said in a statement.

Together with northwest Argentina and northern Chile, western Bolivia forms part of South America's lithium triangle, estimated to host more than half the world's lithium resources. However, unlike its neighbors, Bolivia has yet to produce the mineral - in hot demand because of its use in electric vehicle batteries - on an industrial scale.

The plan involves the construction of five plants at the Salar de Coipasa at a cost of $1.3 billion, to produce potassium sulfate, lithium hydroxide, boric acid and bromine. The lithium hydroxide plant would have capacity to produce 60,000 mt/year of the chemical.

TBEA Group-Baocheng would also build a lithium battery plant in China in which YLB would hold a majority stake. The company will also invest another $1.07 billion in the Salar de Pastos Grandes where it will build plants to produce lithium chloride, lithium carbonate and metallic lithium.

YLB is already advancing plans to produce lithium from the Salar de Uyuni, the world's largest salt flat, through a joint venture with Germany's ACI Systems.

Speaking at the signing ceremony, Bolivian President Evo Morales said seven companies had participated in the tender to exploit the salares' mineral potential, including three from Russia, two from China and one each from Germany and Ireland but that Chinese consortium had been chosen based on the technical proposal.

China is going to need 800,000 mt of lithium by 2025," said China's ambassador to Bolivia, Liang Yu, in the statement.

-- Tom Azzopardi, newsdesk@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Richard Rubin, newsdesk@spglobal.com