Troves of Lithium, Valuable for Batteries, Boost Mood in Bolivia and Afghanistan

Bolivia has vast deposits of lithium and has started to refer to itself as “the Saudi Arabia of lithium.”

Bolivia-LithiumIn June, the Department of Defense announced that the mineral wealth of Afghanistan — including iron, copper, gold and lithium — might be worth more than $900 billion. Despite the historic importance of the first three, lithium seemed to be the material that most excited Pentagon officials, who gushed in internal memos about Afghanistan’s becoming “the Saudi Arabia of lithium.”

Afghanistan isn’t the only country trying to hitch its wagon to lithium’s star. Bolivia, too, has vast deposits and has also started to refer to itself as “the Saudi Arabia of lithium.” An article in the New Yorker in March detailed the trouble Bolivia is having attracting investors to its lithium, mainly because of inadequate infrastructure and President Evo Morales’s predilection for nationalization.

So what’s so special about lithium? Sure, the batteries that power most of our portable electronic devices and hybrid-electric vehicles rely on it. But you don’t hear anyone crowing about becoming the Saudi Arabia of manganese, cadmium or lead, all of them ingredients in conventional batteries.

First, a little Batteries 101. Batteries work on a simple principle. They stuff a whole bunch of electrons into a place they don’t want to be. When you need power, your device (a computer, a cellphone or a plug-in car) provides a bridge for them to flow to a lower-density location. In the process, your gadget uses the energy that the electrons release.

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Source: Brian Palmer | The Washington Post