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Bolivia’s first lithium battery factory

Quantum Motors established the first electric car factory in Bolivia in 2019. Early last July, its CEO, José Carlos Márquez, inaugurated the country’s first lithium battery plant.

A month after starting operations and ready to make its first exports to Paraguay and Peru, Quantum Batteries represents a step forward in the national government’s plans to achieve the longed-for industrialization of lithium, whose highest global concentration is located in the Uyuni salt flat, in Potosí.

Federico Iriberry, manager of Quantum Batteries, guided Sputnik on a visit to the plant in the Sarcobamba district of Cochabamba. He commented that their batteries currently use up to 20% Bolivian lithium because this industry, strongly promoted by Luis Arce’s government, has yet to be developed.

Quantum has the most qualified personnel in the country to guarantee the efficiency of each part of the process.
Quantum has the most qualified personnel in the country to guarantee the efficiency of each part of the process. (Photo: internet reproduction)

In the first half of 2022, the state-owned Yacimientos de Litio Bolivianos (YLB) obtained more than US$35 million from the sale of potassium chloride and lithium carbonate, a figure that exceeds the US$27 million profits recorded for the same concept in the whole of 2021.

LITHIUM BATTERIES MANUFACTURED IN BOLIVIA

Iriberry showed the process of assembling the batteries’ components from the union of lithium cells.

“Initially, Bolivia does not make cells. But it is linked to some companies that today buy lithium carbonate and produce cells, which to some extent have Bolivian lithium,” explained the engineer.

The new factory has several devices dedicated to verifying that the lithium batteries produced there are safe and stable to avoid future accidents.

Occasionally, there are reports of motorcycle or cell phone batteries catching fire. According to Iriberry, most of these accidents occur when they are overcharged because they were plugged in for longer than necessary.

Quantum has the most qualified personnel in the country to guarantee the efficiency of each part of the process.

“Qualifying in batteries is difficult. I’ve been a [lead-acid] battery factory manager for ten years. I have experience in lead-acid battery design,” Iriberry said.

And he said that for the past two years, he had been enrolled in every course related to lithium and lithium batteries to deepen his training in this new area of work.

As for the rest of the personnel, “there is no course in Bolivia that can be taken specifically on lithium batteries. So, we are training ourselves to become trainers, and to be able to have a team of engineers in Bolivia”.

Iriberry indicated that everyone at Quantum Batteries is from some branch of engineering: “We are mechatronic, electronic, mechanical engineers, from all areas. We hope to specify ourselves to later multiply the knowledge in new engineers who know about batteries”.

“QUANTUM AND BOLIVIA CAN BE AT THE FOREFRONT OF THE WORLD”

José Carlos Márquez is the visionary entrepreneur who founded Quantum Motors in 2019, the first to manufacture electric cars in the country.

His work caught the attention of Luis Arce’s government, which facilitated his access to the evaporite resources that were beginning to be exploited in the Uyuni salt flat, where there would be 21 million tons of the precious metal.

“We believe that Quantum and Bolivia can be at the forefront of what is coming in the world, which is the change of energy matrix that is so necessary, leaving behind the polluting and scarce fossil fuels,” said Márquez at the inauguration ceremony of the battery factory last July.

“This takes on greater relevance taking into account that we are in Bolivia, where we are facing a notable decrease in fuels, and we have to import and subsidize hydrocarbons,” which, according to Márquez, should not happen since the country is “a producer of electricity, with a lot of power to expand the production of clean, renewable energy.”

The lithium battery factory began operating with an investment of half a million dollars. According to Márquez, by the end of the year, the company will be capitalized with another half a million dollars to intensify production.

“We are betting on the development of lithium reserves, and we want Quantum Batteries to be the spearhead for many more companies and Bolivia to be a reference in electromobility and batteries”, the businessman hoped.

THE ROAD TO LITHIUM INDUSTRIALIZATION

Since the presidencies of Evo Morales (2006-2019), the intention has been to advance the industrialization of Bolivia’s vast lithium reserves.

According to the Vice-Minister of High Energy Technologies, Álvaro Arenz, in an “optimal scenario,” Bolivia could produce 100,000 tons of lithium carbonate, generating US$5 billion.

Iriberry shared his analysis of the path now being followed by Luis Arce’s government: “The State is doing something to industrialize lithium, and that is important”.

But “they are dreaming very big, while we should go little by little. First we should dream of making a good lithium carbonate, and then think about making a battery,” the engineer said.

For Iriberry, the government should concentrate on exploiting the metal because “the lithium battery changes every month. Because every month, someone has discovered a new component, a new way to make the charge last a little longer or to make it charge faster.

With information from Sputnik

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