Bolivia: Mining, Minerals and Fuel Resources

Topics Covered

Welcome to Bolivia
Overview of Resources
Industrial Minerals and Gemstones
Fossil Fuels

Welcome to Bolivia

Bolivia is located in Central South America to the southwest of Brazil. It is the 28th largest country in the world with an area of 1,098,581 km2. As per 2011 estimates, it has a total population of 10,290,003. The climatic conditions of the country vary from humid and tropical to cold and semiarid.

The national flag of Bolivia.
Image Credit: CIA factbook

Bolivia has a lot of untapped natural resources and supplies its mineral resources to the global market in raw forms such as concentrates and ores. According to 2011 reports, the total output from the mineral industry accounted for 14% ($2.78 billion) of the country’s GDP of $49.06 billion. Although the country was influenced by the global recession, it recorded the highest economic growth rate in South America in 2009. Yet, Bolivian economy is greatly affected by the lack of foreign investment in the mining and hydrocarbon sectors.

Overview of Resources

Bolivia is rich in resources such as gold, lead, silver, antimony, tungsten, zinc, petroleum, natural gas and tin. In addition, the country has considerable resources of tantalum, potash, platinum, palladium, nickel, iron ore, indium, chromium and cadmium.

As per 2010 estimates, the country has produced nearly 8% of the world’s total tin output, 6% of silver, 4% of antimony, 3% of boron and zinc each, 1% of bismuth, and 2% each of lead and tungsten. It is one among the top three producers of natural gas in South America. Nearly 80% of the natural gas produced in the country is exported.

Industrial Minerals and Gemstones

Bolivia has many undeveloped potassium and lithium resources. In 2010, a lithium pilot plant capable of producing 500 t/yr of lithium carbonate was constructed in Salar de Uyuni.

The Map of Bolivia. Image Credit: CIA factbook

The state-owned Corporación Minera de Bolivia (COMIBOL) stepped forward to develop mining facilities capable of producing potash of 12,000 t/yr at the Salar de Uyuni.

In 2010, the production of boric acid and ulexite in the country increased by 14% when compared to 2009, thanks to numerous exploration activities and investment in Salar de Uyuni mining projects by the Bolivian government.

Furthermore, the country has significant amounts of gemstone ametrine available in the Anahi mine.


Bolivia is rich in metal resources including iron ore, silver, tin, antimony and indium.

In 2010, Jindal Steel & Power Ltd (JSP) of India started the construction of a direct-reduced iron (DRI) plant that can produce 2.52 million metric tons per year (Mt/yr) of DRI and other plants capable of producing 10 Mt/yr of iron ore pellets, 6 Mt/yr of sponge iron and 1.7 Mt/yr of crude steel. It also mined considerable amount of iron ore in the El Mutun Mine.

Nearly 210,000 kg of silver was produced from San Bartolom Mine in 2010, compared to 230,000 kg in 2009.

In 2010, Bolivia produced 9,751 t of tin at the Huanuni tin mine, which is comparatively lesser than 9,968 t of tin produced in 2009. Empresa Mineral Huanuni, a state-owned tin mining company, has planned to construct a new mill in the Huanuni mine during 2010 to increase tin production capacity to 14,000 t/yr.

Fossil Fuels

Bolivia is rich in crude petroleum and natural gas resources. In 2010, the petroleum and natural gas products production in the country increased 14% from that of 2009.

La Paz, the administrative capital of Bolivia. Image Credit: CIA factbook

In 2010, the Bolivian government agreed to increase the export of natural gas from Margarita field to 9 million m3 per day by 2014, 25 million m3 per day by 2019 and 27 million m3 per day by 2021.


Foreign investments in Bolivia during 2010 did not contribute much to the country’s mineral production during 2011. In 2010, a private consortium had invested in Margarita field to increase the natural gas production to 8 million m3 per day. Moreover, the state-owned YPFB invested nearly $4 billion in projects for developing natural gas production.

Reports from the Banco Central de Bolivia (BCB) state that foreign direct investment (FDI) in crude petroleum and natural gas sector decreased to $310 million in 2010, compared to $325 million in 2009. Bolivia was globally ranked 76th out of 79 jurisdictions in terms of desirable destination for foreign investment in the mining sector.

Recently, India’s JSP pulled out of a Bolivian mine accusing the country of a non-investor friendly attitude. Moreover, the mining sector in Bolivia in 2012 has been hit by inter- sectorial conflicts and nationalisation of mines has not helped significantly in finding a permanent solution for this problem.

All these suggest the need for the Bolivian government to bring in some serious structural and political changes that will help stabilize its ailing mining industry. Moreover, the country needs to focus on investing more in the mining sector to increase boron production and expand the lithium production capacity. It also needs to take more initiatives to outline investor-friendly policies in the future.

Disclaimer: The Author of this article does not imply any investment recommendation and some content is speculative in nature. The Author is not affiliated in any way with any companies mentioned and all statistical information is publically available.

Sources factbook/geos/bl.html 2010-bl.pdf

Will Soutter

Written by

Will Soutter

Will has a B.Sc. in Chemistry from the University of Durham, and a M.Sc. in Green Chemistry from the University of York. Naturally, Will is our resident Chemistry expert but, a love of science and the internet makes Will the all-rounder of the team. In his spare time Will likes to play the drums, cook and brew cider.


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