I'm currently reading Ed Conway's 'Material World', which has given me a whole new appreciation for the importance of raw materials to the way our economy functions.
The graph from Chartr might surprise some of your students and the (short) accompanying article is really interesting. It explains that Bolivia is now the world's leading holder of lithium reserves, with a confirmed increase from 21 million tons in January 2023 to 23 million tons. This is due to extensive geological studies and foreign investment, including a $2.8 billion pledge from Chinese and Russian backers. Given lithium's importance in rechargeable batteries for electric vehicles and electronic devices, Bolivia's enhanced lithium production could significantly transform its economy. However, technological and political challenges could impede this progress.
Overall, this is really useful background reading for any time in the course, but it has links to supply, costs of production and globalisation.
Some possible questions:
1. What led to Bolivia's increase in lithium reserves?
2. How much has Bolivia's confirmed lithium reserve increased in 2023?
3. Which companies have signed deals with Bolivia to exploit its lithium reserves?
4. What is the total investment pledged by these companies?
5. What is the Salar de Uyuni, and what does it contain?
6. What is the "lithium triangle" and which countries are part of it?
7. Why has lithium consumption quadrupled since 2010?
8. How much is lithium production expected to increase by 2030 to meet global demand?
1. What is the meaning of "touchstones" in the context of the mineral industry?
2. How does the meaning of "exploit" mean in the context of natural resources differ from 'utilise'?
3. What does "predominantly" mean?
4. What is meant by "untapped" in the context of mineral resources?
1. By what % did Bolivia's lithium reserves increase in 2023?
2. How many deals has Bolivia signed in the first half of the year?
3. Using the chart, what total fraction of world lithium reserved is held by the Lithium Triangle?
4. What is the collective % of lithium held by Czechia, Serbia, Peru, Mali, Russia, Brasil and Zimbabwe?
5. Draw a pie chart to show the same data
1. What are the potential economic impacts of Bolivia's lithium reserves on its national economy?
2. How might Bolivia's lithium reserves influence its geopolitical relationships?
3. How could Bolivia's rising prominence in the lithium industry affect global lithium prices? Draw a diagram to support your answer
4. What technological and political challenges might Bolivia face in exploiting its lithium reserves?
5. What environmental implications might arise from Bolivia's exploitation of its lithium reserves?
6. How might the development of Bolivia's lithium industry impact tourism, specifically regarding the Salar de Uyuni?
7. How might Bolivia's lithium reserves influence the global market for electric vehicles and portable electronic devices?
8. What measures could Bolivia take to mitigate potential technological and political challenges in exploiting its lithium reserves?
9. How might the growth of the lithium industry affect other sectors of Bolivia's economy?
10. What might be the social implications of increased lithium extraction in Bolivia?