TEXAS A&M (US)—Afghanistan has mineral deposits that could potentially turn it from being one of the poorest countries on Earth to one of the richest.

Industrial metals such as copper and lithium could put the war-torn country in high demand for high-tech industry.

Reports that as much as $1 trillion worth of minerals may lie in Afghan soils are really not surprising, says Bruce Herbert, assistant head of the department of geology and geophysics at Texas A&M University.

U.S. officials have surveyed the area and concluded that vast amounts of iron, copper, gold, cobalt, and lithium are likely plentiful in the region.

“Soviet geologists first surveyed Afghanistan for economically important minerals,” Herbert says. “The U.S. Geological Survey started surveying the country in 2004.

Afghanistan has all sorts of valuable minerals, and if the accounts of lithium are true, it could be a tremendous boost for their economic future.”

Cell phone batteries contain lithium. Anyone who owns a BlackBerry or other cell phone, a laptop computer, or even a flashlight, is a consumer of lithium. The soft, silvery-looking metal is in high demand in high-tech times and deposits of it could mean instant wealth.

“Lithium is found in two sources—one is in volcanic rocks, and the other is in desert areas, such as those found in Afghanistan,”  Herbert explains.

“Argentina and Chile have significant amounts, in the U.S. it’s found mainly in Nevada, and China has some. But it’s a relatively rare mineral and there’s not much of it in the world, so any new deposits are always welcome.

“Most of the batteries in cell phones or laptop computers have lithium in them, so the demand for it has skyrocketed in recent years and will likely continue to do so,” he adds. “Even many of the common flashlight batteries have lithium in them. New technology seems to be driven by lithium.”

A derivative of the mineral is also used by the drug industry to treat depression, bipolar disorders, and migraine headaches.

Afghanistan’s economy has been devastated by decades of wars, and the gross domestic product of the country is estimated to be about $12 billion. The country has been a center of the narcotics trade, specializing in opium production.

Herbert says no one knows exactly how much lithium Afghanistan has. But the good news is that if the mineral is there, it is not hard to extract.

“Usually, lithium in salt deposits is found near the surface,” he says. “You don’t have to go hundreds of feet down to find it like you do other minerals, so it’s relatively easy to mine.

“If all the reports of vast amounts of lithium in Afghanistan are true, it could be a huge boost for that country.”

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