LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) -- Bolivia's president said Thursday that the Andean nation will proceed with or without a foreign partner and begin manufacturing lithium batteries. He said it will invest about $900 million and start production in 2014.
The landlocked South American nation is home to the largest known reserves of the world's lightest metal, which is used in batteries that power cell phones, laptops and other electronics. But Bolivia has so far not even moved out of the pilot phase of lithium production.
Lithium-ion batteries are expected to power the world into a new clean energy era of electric and hybrid vehicles, which are only just beginning to enter mass production.
Morales has sought a foreign partner for Comibol, the state-owned mining company, to produce batteries domestically -- insisting the poor Andean country will no longer just export its minerals for the benefit of developed nations. Manufacturing jobs are essential to economic prosperity, he argues.
But talks with Bollore of France, Sumitomo and Mitsubishi of Japan and LG y Kores of Korea as well as Iran have so far reaped no agreement.
"They only want to invest to buy lithium carbonate," Morales told reporters, referring to the compound used in batteries. But "we need partners for the industrialization of lithium batteries in Bolivia."
So rather than investment, Morales said, Bolivia will look for a technology partner.
He claimed government studies show Bolivia has 70 percent of the world's lithium reserves, and enough to meet global demand for the next 5,000 years.
The U.S. Geological Survey put Bolivia's lithium reserves at 9 million metric tons in 2009, out of total estimated global reserves of 25.5 million metric tons.
Meantime, multinational companies are going elsewhere for their lithium. In January, a key supplier of Toyota Motor Corp. formed a partnership to mine lithium in one of Bolivia's neighbors, Argentina.
Another neighbor, Chile, is the world's No. 1 lithium producer.