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Eyes on Afghanistan as Next Lithium Motherlode

As American troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, the US has handed over prized mineral data to Kabul, which is hoping it can provide enough security to lure investors to key mineral deposits that could turn the country into the Saudi Arabia of Lithium in the best-case scenario, or another conflict minerals venue like Congo.

Earlier this month, the US Geological Survey handed Kabul highly advanced hyper-spectral imaging of mineral deposits covering about 70% of the countries territory, but security, infrastructure and legislation must be addressed before these deposits can be tapped into.

Joseph Catalino, acting director of the DOD task force, said the Defense Department's Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO) was working with private-sector firms to encourage them to invest in Afghanistan's mineral and hydrocarbon sectors.

"Big companies, small companies, even really small companies are all asking the same questions -- what's there, where do we look and where do we drill? That's where this data comes into play," Catalino was quoted as saying.

In 2010, US geologists estimated that Afghanistan held some $1 trillion in mineral deposits such as lithium, copper and iron, and the American gift to Kabul here is the extremely valuable hyper-spectral imaging, which the Afghan authorities are hoping will help lure in investors.  

As it stands, Afghanistan is taking in less than $150 million in mining revenues annually, but officials in Kabul are eyeing a figure in the billions by 2020.

Related Article: Can Oil Turn Beirut into a New Dubai or a New Baghdad?

Lithium is positioned to play a key role in this mining venue, as Afghanistan is said to have one of the world’s largest untapped reserves.

Lithium—a soft metal used to make lithium-ion and lithium-polymer batteries, which are used to power everything from electric cars to smart phones and computers—could even turn Afghanistan into the “Saudi Arabia of Lithium”, according to a Pentagon memo. That would challenge the current lithium leader, Bolivia, which is the world’s largest exporter of the high-demand element.

And with lithium demand predicted by some to more than double in the next decade, securing the next big extraction venue is high on the list of priorities for manufacturers who depend on the element.

Another big venue for lithium could mean a lot for a company like Tesla, for instance, which is planning its own $5 billion lithium-ion Gigafactory in Texas.

“At some point, if present trends continue, demand [for lithium] will outstrip the supply. And again, at some point, the market for lithium-ion could get so big that it actually affects the supply chain,” said Donald R. Sadoway, a professor of the Materials Chemistry Department of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT.

By James Stafford of Oilprice.com

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