Even though rich in mineral and energy resources, Bolivia is one of the poorest and least developed countries in Latin America. The country has the second-largest reserves of natural gas in South America, but there have been long-running tensions over the exploitation and export of the resource. Indigenous groups say the country should not relinquish control of the reserves, which they see as Bolivia’s sole remaining natural resource.
However one natural resource which is seen as the permanent reserve of Bolivia is lithium. The Salar de Uyuni, a vast salt flat in southwestern Bolivia, contains at least 5.4 million tons—almost half the world’s known supply of lithium, and has significant quantities of boron and potassium also. With the proliferation of cell phones and laptop computers; lithium is ideal for making lightweight batteries. Now, with the emergence of electric cars, lithium could challenge petroleum as the dominant fuel of the future. Major auto companies, including Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi, GM, and Ford, plan to introduce electric and/or improved hybrid models in the next two years. President Obama has pledged to put 1 million electric and hybrid cars on U.S. roads by 2015. Meanwhile, by the end of 2011 China has insinuated that it will have the capacity to build half a million hybrid and plug-in vehicles per annum.