Intelligent Energy

Afghanistan: the 'Saudi Arabia' of lithium?

Afghanistan: the 'Saudi Arabia' of lithium?

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Will Afghanistan's newly found minerals provide new prosperity to the country or give it another reason for war?

American geologists have discovered huge mineral deposits (possibly $1 trillion worth) throughout Afghanistan, according to the New York Times. Lithium, gold, cobalt, copper, iron, among other valuable minerals are lying beneath what is already a war-torn country with little history with mining.

Off and on over the decades, geologists—Soviet, Afghan, American—would investigate and chart some of Afghanistan's mineral wealth, only to put the work on hold as violent conflict erupted. Now, corruption, in-fighting between the central and district governments, foreign interests, and greater zeal from the Taliban might come into play to disrupt a potential economy evolving around these natural resources.

With the Ministry of Mines, a Pentagon task force is now helping organize a way of handling the mineral development and bidding rights. How this unfolds socially, environmentally and politically should be interesting.

The New York Times reports:

The value of the newly discovered mineral deposits dwarfs the size of Afghanistan’s existing war-bedraggled economy, which is based largely on opium production and narcotics trafficking as well as aid from the United States and other industrialized countries. Afghanistan’s gross domestic product is only about $12 billion.

The two most prevalent minerals are copper and iron. Niobium, used for making superconducting steel, has also been found.

As for lithium, an important metal used in computer and hybrid car batteries, Afghanistan's potential stores in Ghazni Province in the west might be bigger than in Bolivia, which according to the U.S. Geological Society, has an estimated 5.4 million tons.

Related on SmartPlanet:

Image: USGS

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Melissa Mahony

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Melissa Mahony has written for Scientific American Mind, Audubon Magazine, Plenty Magazine and LiveScience. Formerly, she was an editor at Wildlife Conservation magazine. She holds degrees from Boston College and New York University's Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting Program. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure