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Electric cars: How nations sitting on lithium reserves are handling the new ‘white gold’ rush | Economy and Business

The economic outlook for Latin America is not great. Before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, the region was already losing momentum and multilateral organizations and analysts were warning that governments would have to change their policies if they were to boost development.

Lithium represents an opportunity to turn the region’s prospects around. A mineral with high electrical conductivity, it is essential for producing the batteries that will enable the world to cut its dependence on fossil fuels and migrate to cleaner renewable energies. Bolivia has the largest reserves in the world. The Bolivia-Argentina-Chile ” lithium triangle” accounts for 63% of the planet’s reserves. Peru and Mexico are in possession of a further three million tons or thereabouts. Lithium is, for big investors, the brightest star on the Latin American map.

The energy transition has come at a time when nationalism is on the rise in these countries. In recent months, efforts have been made to bring production under state control, a move that many citizens favor. Many others oppose it because of environmental concerns. Lithium is called “white gold” because of its market value and its silver hue. In English it is known as “white oil,” a subtle but telling difference. For Latin Americans, lithium is a precious mineral like gold and silver, both of which have been exploited in their region since colonial times. But in Anglo culture the mineral is viewed as an enhancer, a natural resource that will be transformed into something else, a step in the value chain.

The price of lithium on the international market rose approximately 80% in 2021, according to a Bloomberg index. Just four years ago, another analysis by Bloomberg predicted that by 2040 more than half of all car sales in developed countries would be electric vehicles. However, a more recent study by the consulting firm KPMG, published in November last year, cut this forecast by 10 years. According to KPMG, 52% of car sales will be electric by 2030. More than 1,100 auto industry executives in 31 countries estimated that the sector will undergo a “radical transformation” in the next five to 10 years.

Workers load salt onto trucks inside a state-owned lithium production facility at the Salar de Uyuni in Potosí, Bolivia.
Workers load salt onto trucks inside a state-owned lithium production facility at the Salar de Uyuni in Potosí, Bolivia.Carlos Becerra (Bloomberg)

The world is moving rapidly in this direction and the need for lithium feels urgent, as if the window of opportunity could close at any moment. For years, Chile has depended on private investment to extract and process the mineral. Chile’s president, Sebastián Piñera, who leaves office on March 11, announced the award of two production quotas of 80,000 tons of lithium each to two companies last month, one funded by Chinese capital and the other by Chilean capital. The announcement was controversial as the leftist president-elect Gabriel Boric won the election with a plan to create a national lithium company and implement a “new governance” of the salt flats containing the mineral’s reserves. Boric also promised that all communities in Chile, regardless of their location, would have access to water, a necessary resource for mining. Piñera’s contracts are now in legal limbo after being suspended by an appeals court.

The days of the current model might be numbered in any case. On February 1, Chile took an initial step toward nationalizing some of the world’s largest copper and lithium mines as Congress approved a proposal to give control to the state. The vote was part of the process of drafting a new Constitution. Currently, the Constitution prohibits the nationalization of these resources.

In Mexico, where reserves have the potential to exceed the US Geological Survey’s estimates of 1.7 million tons, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has proposed something similar. As part of a bill to reform the energy sector, López Obrador is planning to nationalize lithium and create a state institution to control its processing. Unlike Chile, lithium production in Mexico has been limited to a single contract with a Chinese company, which to date, has not extracted a single gram of lithium carbonate. Experts point out that the government does not have the resources to create a state-owned company. Mexico is, therefore, idling in another kind of limbo.

In Peru, Pedro Castillo’s government is seeking to modify an existing contract with the Canadian company American Lithium Corp so that the mineral is exported with added value, according to a pro-Castillo lawmaker’s statements to local media. In other words, the state wants companies operating in Peru to do more than just extract and refine the lithium for export, but to also invest in factories to transform the lithium into a product with a higher market value, generating more and better-paid jobs.

Argentina is, to some extent, the exception. There, exploration rights are in the hands of the provinces and President Alberto Fernández’s government has sought to promote the country’s reserves worldwide. In 2020, Fernández set out to increase annual lithium carbonate production by 700% to 230,000 tons by the end of this year. This will require an investment of more than $1 billion by the private sector. During Fernández’s visit to China at the beginning of February, government officials revealed that Argentina is negotiating with the Chinese to establish new investments, including plans to set up a battery factory.

A brine pool at a lithium mine in the Atacama Desert, Chile on May 29, 2019.
A brine pool at a lithium mine in the Atacama Desert, Chile on May 29, 2019. Bloomberg Creative Photos (Bloomberg)

While Argentina is moving up a gear, Bolivia appears to be taking its time. Because of the unparalleled size of its reserves, this is the country that investors have the keenest eye on, but the mineral has already generated conflicts. In 2019, President Evo Morales announced that the German company ACI Systems would invest nearly $1.3 billion to exploit a large slice of its lithium reserves. Just weeks later, a major political crisis paralyzed the negotiations and Morales was forced to flee the country.

In July 2020, a Twitter user confronted Elon Musk, head of leading electric vehicles manufacturer Tesla, claiming that the “US organized a coup in Bolivia” just so that Musk could have access to the country’s lithium. “We will coup whoever we want! Deal with it!” replied the entrepreneur in a tweet that soon disappeared; the only remaining record of it are screenshots in newspaper reports. The quip gave Morales the perfect hook to link the control of lithium to his administration’s demise. Last year, during a visit to Mexico, the former president argued that the mineral should be in the hands of individual countries rather than the private sector. “We decided, as a country, to industrialize lithium,” he said in statements in which he also criticized Tesla. “We hired experts… and we started the great industry and then came the coup. American congressmembers have recognized that the coup was over lithium.”

In November 2020, Luis Arce, an ally of Morales, became president of Bolivia and embarked on a different approach. First, he organized a public event, a kind of fair, to attract domestic and foreign enterprises interested in investing. Subsequently, eight companies from the US, China, Russia and Argentina were selected and allowed to pilot test the extraction technology. In April, a technical group from the state-owned Yacimientos de Litio Bolivianos is expected to decide which companies should receive contracts. Among the factors to be considered are mineral recovery percentage, environmental impact and community protection, explains Diego von Vacano, a professor at the Texas A&M University in the US and an informal advisor to Luis Arce’s government.

According to Von Vacano, the technical group is independent and made up of professionals in the field, two indigenous women and two men. Lithium mined from brine, as is the case in Bolivia, has a lower impact on the environment than lithium mined from solid sediment, as is the case in Mexico. However, it is still mining, which affects the ecosystem. “Bolivia does not want to repeat the mistakes that have been made; for example, the damage to the environment seen in Chile,” says Von Vacano.

While Argentina is moving up a gear, Bolivia appears to be taking its time

“Throughout the history of colonialism, specifically with regard to mining, literature often describes mines as dead or uninhabited landscapes, devoid of life – a concept that in Latin is called terra nullius, or, no man’s land,” says Thea Riofrancos, an associate professor of political science at Providence College, Rhode Island, in the US. “In fact, that’s not the case.” Riofrancos recalls the first time she visited Chile’s reserves in 2019. “I was amazed by the desert in many ways,” she says. “The salar [a salt-encrusted depression] is like a grayish-white expanse that stretches as far as the horizon and seems endless. There are flamingos, and, if you’re lucky, you can see beautiful birds of prey.”

The Atacama Desert in Chile is incredibly arid and has high levels of ultraviolet radiation. According to a group of academics, it is “one of the harshest environments on Earth” and could hold the key to surviving global warming. In a paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America in November, a group of 27 scientists advocated preserving the desert to conduct scientific research, pointing out that “as a natural laboratory, Atacama is unparalleled for studying plant adaptation to extreme environmental conditions.”

Historically, the southern hemisphere has provided the global economy with its raw materials, though its people have not benefited, says Riofrancos. “The case of Bolivia is extremely dramatic because the origins of Spanish imperialism lie in the Potosí mines,” she explains. “The country has provided the world with minerals from silver to tin, as well as natural gas and agro-exports and now the prospect of lithium.”

Perhaps that is why the Arce administration is handling the progress of the pilot program with discretion. Bolivia’s Ministry of Hydrocarbons and Energy did not respond to questions from EL PAÍS about the estimated potential of this industry in terms of gross domestic product. Revenues will be subject to price fluctuations on the international markets, which is why there is already talk in Argentina and Bolivia of creating a lithium cartel similar to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), which imposes production quotas to prevent oil prices from plummeting.

“We are working against the clock,” says Von Vacano, who adds that “it is urgent to push lithium faster” because, otherwise, investors will look to sink their money into other countries. The revenue gained from lithium can be plowed back into local communities as is done in Norway and Qatar, Von Vacano points out. “This can be very positive. It can be a royalty model that benefits not only the regions of Potosí and Uyuni but also the rest of the country. This is money that can be used for education and health. It could transform the country completely.”

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Healthcare And Digital Upskilling

HeathTech & MedTech

According to EIT Health’s Elaine Murray and Sneha Saloni, it’s time to embrace digital upskilling within the healthcare industry

European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, announced last year that 2023 would be the ‘European Year of Skills’ with the objective of “a Europe fit for the digital age”. It will promote a mindset of reskilling and upskilling, helping people develop the right skills for the most in-demand jobs.

So, what does this mean for the healthcare sector? The European Health Parliament previously stated that, “digital technology is an inevitable part of the future of European healthcare” and called for upskilling healthcare workers.

Digital technologies such as AI, telemedicine and robotics, present huge potential for the way healthcare can be delivered, by maximising the reach and impact of various health services.

Preference is slowly shifting from brick and mortar to virtual healthcare and hence, many in the health sector are starting to reimagine and embrace digital to maximise efficiency and efficacy.

The digital skills gap

Healthcare professions make up approximately 10pc of the workforce in Europe, however estimates forecast that there is a shortage of approximately 1m health workers (600,000 in nursing, 230,000 physicians). Data demonstrates that healthcare companies are not visible among the most attractive employers in the eyes of talent.

Couple that with a 2020 report by the European Commission which stated that “shortages of software skills are now omnipresent” across Europe. The pandemic has not only boosted demand for tech-enabled healthcare services, with 90pc of all jobs in health soon to require an element of digital skills, but it has also widened the skill gap, placing stress on existing healthcare systems.

That means the industry is facing challenges in both recruiting into the sector and equipping the staff it does have with the digital skills they need. Many are either resistant or not well informed about new digital tools and systems. Lack of information and training among clinical and support staff acts as a deterrent to improving efficacy in patient care outcomes.

We therefore find ourselves at a critical juncture. Digital transformation in healthcare means increasing pressure on the existing system to perform, while sustaining and acknowledging the widening skills gap. Adequate investment in the workforce’s digital skills and digital literacy is now crucial.

Empowering healthcare professionals through digital upskilling

EIT Health, Europe’s largest health innovation network, is working to combat the talent shortage in the healthcare industry through its WorkInHealth Foundation. This aims to promote healthcare as a sector in which talent can thrive in Europe, particularly in the areas of digital, commercial, and innovation. EIT Health’s pan-European network links industry and academia which means it can tap into both recruiters and candidates, matching talent across the sector.

For those on the frontline, it can be difficult to stay abreast of so many fast-changing technologies entering the market. Whether it is a hospital administrator seeking to become proficient at using chatbots, cleaning staff adopting autonomous disinfection software, or a physician showing a patient how to use a medical device remotely, technology is integrated at every level of health service delivery.

A holistic approach needs to be adopted for upskilling by creating regular training opportunities for healthcare workers, senior executives and support staff so they can develop the digital expertise they need to carry out their roles efficiently and effectively.

There is also opportunity for institutions to shift from traditional training frameworks to digital alternatives. For example, training programmes to understand the integration of AI, data management, analytics and machine learning into existing infrastructure.

Initiatives such as the HSE’s Spark Innovation Programme create regular knowledge-building opportunities for healthcare staff in areas such as AI, design thinking, and innovation.

The Healthcare Transformation Academy, coordinated by EIT Health and organisations from the European University Hospital Alliance, offers high-quality and affordable on-demand courses in digital transformation, innovation management, high-value care and leadership for healthcare professionals to upskill.

The WorkInHealth Foundation also aims to support in upskilling and reskilling, increasing the volume of talent in the areas with greatest demand and boosting competitiveness of the European health industry. The initiative is in full alignment with the ambitions of the European Innovation Agenda as well as the EU Pact for Skills.

The European Year of Skills 2023 will help the healthcare sector navigate its digital transformation journey by address skills shortages in the EU, promoting a mindset of upskilling, which can ultimately improve patient care and increase reach in healthcare accessibility.

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Global Affairs

How Entrepreneurial Mindset Is Necessary For Startup Triumph

Entrepreneurial Mindset & Startup Triumph

The Voice Of EU | In today’s dynamic world of startups, achieving exceptional growth isn’t a one-shot endeavor. It demands more than a stroke of luck or a hidden formula; it requires an unwavering entrepreneurial mindset, a steadfast commitment, and consistent, sustained effort.

How Entrepreneurial Mindset Is Necessary For Startup Triumph

Picture Credits: PS Vault

In the subsequent sections, I’ll dissect five crucial factors to high-performance growth psychology that can steer your startup towards unprecedented success.

1. The Primacy of Communication

In the quest for growth, it’s commonplace for companies to prioritize feature development over precise language. Yet, this approach is fundamentally misguided. Language should precede all else.

The words you choose to articulate your product and company not only define your identity but also establish user expectations. Your choice of language wields significant influence, shaping how users perceive and engage with your offering. For example, a ridesharing service becomes exponentially more appealing when it promises a ride in four minutes or less.

User-Centric Empathy

Successful Founders distinguish themselves by their ability to think beyond their product and focus on the users. It’s imperative to understand how users think and feel, considering the intricate web of their lives.

To truly stand out, you must ask, “What does my product mean to them, and how does it fit into their world?” Behind every thriving tech company lies a profound insight into human psychology, a key that resonates with users’ needs and desires.

Perpetual Motion

In a landscape dominated by industry giants, speed emerges as your greatest ally. Much like the ancient shrew that thrived through ceaseless motion, startups must embrace a similar philosophy, “be creative, be dynamic.”.

To navigate the whirlwind of rapid changes and outmaneuver larger competitors, you must be in perpetual motion. Swift experimentation, rapid iteration, and an unwavering forward momentum are the cornerstones of sustained growth.

The Embrace of Data

Commitment to measurement is the engine driving growth. Being truly data-driven is not merely a buzzword, but a fundamental philosophy. Devoting substantial engineering resources to measurement, up to half of your total, demonstrates a genuine love for data. It should be an integral part of your company culture, displayed prominently for all to see. Your daily stats should be a source of pride and a testament to your dedication to growth.

Resilience in the Face of Setbacks

Failure is a constant companion on the path to growth. Embracing a mindset that can endure these setbacks is crucial. Most initiatives will yield negative outcomes, and being able to move forward despite this is paramount.

It’s a psychology of resilience, encapsulated in the saying, ‘Success is going from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm‘. This grit and determination are the keys to achieving substantial growth.

Implementing Growth Psychology

To instill these growth-oriented mindsets in your team, consider the following steps:

1. Teach the mentality, particularly the willingness to endure repeated small failures.

2. Clarify that every member is directly responsible for growth, regardless of their official role.

3. Provide your team with the authority to drive product changes and allocate resources for growth.

4. Encourage your team to be more aggressive in pushing growth boundaries.

5. Keep taking big swings and be open to creative, high-risk strategies.

Ultimately, growth is a collective effort, but it hinges on the psychology of the CEO. Founders shape their startups through consistent actions and decisions.

Cultivating the right growth psychology can be the difference between sluggish progress and exponential success. It empowers your company with data-driven visibility, constant momentum, and the audacity to aim for 1000% growth.

If you’re in the latter camp, reach out to us to explore further opportunities for growth.

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— By Raza Qadri | Business, Science & Technology Contributor “The Voice Of EU

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A New Era of Flight: Alef Aeronautics’ Flying Car Receives FAA Certification

Alef Aeronautics’ Flying Car Receives FAA Certification


In a world where futuristic visions of flying cars have long captured our imaginations, a new era of flight is about to take off. On June 12, 2023, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a Special Airworthiness Certificate to Alef Aeronautics, granting their flying car model the official approval to take to the skies.

This marks a pivotal moment in the history of advanced air mobility (AAM) and represents a significant step towards revolutionizing transportation as we know it.

The Concept and Creation of Model A

Alef Aeronautics, a California-based company, began working on the concept of their flying car in 2015, driven by a vision of safe and efficient urban air mobility. The result of their innovative efforts is the Model A, a road-legal passenger car designed to accommodate two occupants. The Model A boasts an impressive driving range of 200 miles (322 km) and a flight range of 110 miles (177 km), making it a viable option for short-to-medium distance travel.

The sleek and compact design of the Model A is intended to resemble a regular car, ensuring that it can seamlessly blend into everyday life. One of the standout features of this futuristic vehicle is its ability to achieve vertical take-off and transform into a biplane midflight. The doors of the Model A serve a dual purpose, cleverly converting into wings that allow for a smooth transition from ground to air. This innovative design not only promises a thrilling flying experience but also aims to dramatically change the way we commute.

Technological Challenges and Safety Concerns

While the Model A holds great promise for the future of transportation, numerous technological challenges remain to be overcome. Jim Dukhovny, the Chief Executive of Alef Aeronautics, acknowledges that some components required for the flying car’s design do not currently exist in the world. The development of highly specialized propeller motor systems is crucial to avoid differential stress and ensure the safety and stability of the flying car. Balancing size, weight, and price constraints presents further hurdles in making these vehicles accessible to the public while maintaining their safety standards.

'City of Future Mobility' by PS Art - Voice of EU
‘Future of Air Mobility’ by PS Art — ‘THE VOICE OF EU’

Despite these challenges, the Model A is poised to undergo manufacturing in 2025 or early 2026, with vehicles already available for pre-order. The current price tag stands at $300,000 (£246,000), but Alef Aeronautics aims to scale down the cost to $35,000 or £28,700 per vehicle in the future. However, ensuring a seamless transition from ground to air remains a complex issue that needs to be addressed to guarantee passenger safety during take-off and landing.

Regulation and Infrastructure

As the concept of flying cars inches closer to reality, the focus shifts towards ensuring a smooth integration of this new mode of transportation into urban landscapes. Urban air mobility operations will primarily be overseen by a country’s air navigation service provider (ANSP), such as the FAA in the United States. The ANSP holds full jurisdiction over the nation’s airspace operations and is responsible for certifying new aircraft types after rigorous safety reviews.

According to a blueprint report published by the FAA, the initial implementation of flying car operations will leverage existing regulatory frameworks and rules, such as visual flight rules and instrument flight rules, as a basis for enhanced aircraft performance and higher levels of autonomy. However, several concerns need to be addressed, including noise, pollution, security, sustainability, and cost. The issue of who will drive these flying cars and whether passengers will need a license also requires careful consideration.

Trajectory Planning and Noise Pollution

One of the significant concerns surrounding the advent of flying cars is the potential for collisions and noise pollution. With these vehicles traveling at high speeds, ensuring precise path and trajectory planning becomes essential to avoid accidents. However, to date, there are no provisions for flying car trajectory route planning, necessitating robust research and technology development to address this challenge.

Moreover, designing flying cars to be exceptionally quiet presents another obstacle, particularly when large-scale commercial operations could involve hundreds of take-offs and landings every hour. Electric propellers and other propulsion design elements can mitigate noise pollution, but strict government regulations may be necessary to control noise levels effectively. Drawing on metrics from traditional airplanes and helicopters, guidelines for air infrastructure can be adapted to curb noise pollution.

Equitable Access and the Future of Flying Cars

As the reality of flying cars draws nearer, ensuring equitable access to this mode of transportation becomes paramount. Initially, air taxis may primarily serve densely populated areas, offering a convenient and efficient solution for peak commute times in cities like central London or New York City. However, cost considerations may limit access, making these services accessible mainly to affluent travelers.

Addressing this concern, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) collaborated with Arup, a British firm specializing in design, engineering, and sustainability services, to develop a report on urban air mobility policy framework considerations. Emphasizing the importance of treating flying cars as a funded municipal service and a public good, this report suggests that once the proof of concept is established, rigorous testing has taken place, and safety risks are mitigated, advanced air mobility services should function as a community-wide asset, similar to libraries, schools , airports, or roads.

By viewing urban air mobility as an essential public service, cities can play a crucial role in establishing rules and regulations to ensure safe and equitable access to flying car services.

Los Angeles, A Potentially Early Adopter

With its legendary traffic congestion, Los Angeles has emerged as a city with significant potential for embracing flying cars as a solution to its transportation woes. The promise of faster, traffic-free commutes is undoubtedly enticing for Angelenos. However, it is essential to manage expectations, as urban air mobility will not entirely eliminate congestion. Instead, the focus should be on utilizing air taxis strategically in densely populated areas during peak hours to optimize their impact.

NASA and FAA’s Partnership

As the world gears up for the new era of flight, significant progress is being made through collaborative efforts. NASA, along with the FAA, university researchers, and industry leaders, has joined forces to develop software tools that model and predict AAM noise. This initiative aims to assist manufacturers in designing quieter vehicles to minimize noise pollution in urban environments. By exploring human response to low-level noise and understanding the threshold for “broadband noise,” NASA seeks to predict the combined sound generated by multiple flying cars in flight simultaneously.

The Road Ahead

The journey towards incorporating flying cars into our daily lives remains a complex and multifaceted process. Addressing technological challenges, ensuring safety during transitions from ground to air, and managing noise pollution are just some of the hurdles that must be overcome. Regulatory bodies and urban planners will play a pivotal role in defining the future of urban air mobility, establishing guidelines for air infrastructure, and implementing necessary rules to guarantee a safe and seamless experience for all.

While flying cars are often seen as the epitome of futuristic innovation, it is crucial to ground these advancements in practicality and feasibility. Economies of scale will likely play a significant role in making flying cars more affordable over time, eventually broadening their accessibility beyond the wealthiest travelers. As with any transformative technology, public acceptance and engagement will be essential to ensure the integration of flying cars as a valuable addition to our transportation ecosystem.

As the Model A prepares to take its maiden flight, it represents not only a significant milestone for Alef Aeronautics but also for the entire field of advanced air mobility. The dream of a future where flying cars dot the skies may soon be closer than ever before, bringing a new era of transportation and endless possibilities.

In conclusion, the FAA’s certification of Alef Aeronautics’ flying car marks a crucial turning point in the history of air mobility. While significant challenges and complexities lie ahead, the progress made by companies like Alef Aeronautics, along with the collaboration of regulatory bodies and industry leaders, pave the way for a future where flying cars become a reality in our cities. As we embrace this new era of flight, it is essential to strike a balance between innovation, safety, and sustainability, ensuring that the promises of flying cars are fully realized and integrated into our lives in a way that benefits all members of society. The skies of tomorrow hold the potential to unlock a new dimension of transportation, ushering in a world where flying cars soar alongside traditional vehicles, revolutionizing the way we move and connect. The journey has just begun, and with each step forward, we inch closer to a future that once seemed only possible in our wildest dreams.

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Raza Qadri (ALI), founder of USADCO and Yorkshire VBT, is a distinguished science, technology and business contributor renowned for his insightful perspectives on cutting-edge innovations and their practical impact on the business landscape.

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