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Lithium Battery Dreams Get a Rude Awakening in South America

  • Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile seek to join industry boom
  • They hold 70% of reserves, but don’t make a single battery
A machine loads soil into a truck during the construction at the Uyuni salt flat in Bolivia.
A machine loads soil into a truck during the construction at the Uyuni salt flat in Bolivia.Photographer: Marcelo Perez del Carpio/Bloomberg
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South America controls about 70% of the world’s reserves of lithium, the metal used in rechargeable batteries for mobile phones and electric vehicles, but none of the infrastructure needed to put it to work.

Lithium refining and battery-assembling facilities could help kick start industries in economies that are largely dependent on commodities for revenue, putting them at risk from sharp price swings. But so far, public and private initiatives in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Chile have failed to deliver even a single lithium cell factory. And none are set to be built through 2025.