Funny how natural resources rise and fall in our estimation.
There was a time when salt – plain old salt, the stuff we buy for pennies – was the cornerstone of empires, the arrow of conflict, the reason for Roman roads and the thorn that pricked societies to revolution.
Precious salt preserved food for long journeys, drew out illness, was strewn on farmlands to ruin economies, and only lastly lent spice to life.
Industrial progress changed all that, and now salt is so common and cheap that even the exotic varieties (black volcanic, spiced, Himalayan) are affordable.
The salt flats in southwest Bolivia are comprised of sodium chloride and traces of other elements. Notably, large amounts of lithium, which has recently become interesting as a key element for the batteries upon which modern life is built, i.e. those for consumer electronic devices.
Lithium makes up only 0.0007% of the earth’s crust, and is usually extracted through the electrolysis of lithium chloride (LiCl). Lithium is not found free in nature.
It’s the lightest metal element and can be alloyed with all manner of other metals and substances to make strong, light materials. Special light glass for telescope lenses, for example, or metal for aircraft.