Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Wikileaks Heats Up Lithium Ion Drama

The global race to develop lithium ion batteries has suddenly become far more interesting thanks to new Wikileaks documents released recently. According to one of the cables,  the Inter-American Development Bank has given the government of Bolivia a report "that details the serious potential for environmental damage in extracting Lithium."   The cable paints Morales as an eager industrialist who dispenses Climate Change rhetoric but rejects the Copenhagen Accord. Another cable suggests that Morales has a serious tumor whose treatment may be impacting his ability to govern.  In response, Morales used a press conference at the Cancun Climate Summit to express is distinct lack of trust for the American government. He suggests that US intelligence agencies are waging various disinformation campaigns--such as the rumored tumor-- in South American countries which reject capitalism.  This week Bolivia began directly hosting some of the Wikileaks released cables on their own website. 

The US Geological Service estimates that Bolivia has 50-70% of world lithium reserves making it a key supplier for any country attempting to invest in lithium ion manufacturing.   As we learned a year ago, a key part of the US stimulus plan included several billion dollars of funding designed to launch a US based battery manufacturing industry much of which went to lithium ion start up firms. 
UPS Plane destroyed by lithium ion battery fire

Anyone who is paying attention may wonder what will happen if these battery start up firms actually create tenable manufacturing technologies.   Will the price of Bolivian lithium make their accomplishments irrelevant?

Even if a new administration can later smooth over relations with Bolivia, we may be years behind the US's chief competitor in lithium ion production: Japan.  Last week, Japan Prime Minster Naoto Kan hosted--you guessed it--Boliva's Morales who was there to sign deals with Japanese interests for what else--lithium. 

Note: I could not find an environmental risk report for lithum extraction in Bolivia on the IADB website.