UYUNI, Bolivia—"Gray gold" may be the key to a future filled with hybrid or electric vehicles. That’s because lithium is the most important ingredient in the batteries that power these cars. Even without many electric cars on the road today the lightest metal on Earth is more and more a mining target of multinational companies as lithium ion batteries power an increasing array of electronic gadgets.
Lithium is found in many places on the planet, but among all of them no deposit is richer than the vast salt flats of Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, covering more than 10,000 square kilometers of the remote high plains. Lithium is found among these salts, mixed in with brine that lies beneath a saline crust, the residue of an ancient evaporated sea. That lithium-rich brine is the legacy of local volcanic activity transporting the metal to the surface where it could then be leached by infiltrating waters.
See the slide show at Salt ‘n Power: A First Look at the Lithium Flats of Bolivia