The race is on to roll out the first commercial plug-in electric hybrid vehicle. Toyota Motor (NYSE: TM ) is working on a plug-in version of its Prius hybrid, and General Motors (NYSE: GM ) just announced similar plans for its Chevy Volt. The main barrier to getting these cars on the road is the limitation of existing battery technology.
I don't know who among the automakers will win the race. I also have no idea which of the various cleantech startups will develop a world-beating battery. Perhaps it won't be a start-up at all -- Johnson Controls (NYSE: JCI ) has a formidable R&D effort in this arena, as do various Japanese and Korean industrial powerhouses.
But I do know that lithium-ion technology looks like the anointed successor to the nickel-metal hydride battery that powers present-day hybrids. That lithium has to come from somewhere, and more likely than not, that somewhere is Chile.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, fully 75% of the world's lithium reserves are chillin' in Chile. The world's largest producer is Chemical & Mining Company of Chile (NYSE: SQM ) , or Soquimich for short. Like its large shareholder, Potash (NYSE: POT ) , Soquimich is a large fertilizer company. That angle alone is enough to make the company worth investigating. Shares of fertilizer companies like Potash and Mosaic (NYSE: MOS ) have been absolutely ripping over the past year. The rosy demand picture for lithium just makes Soquimich that much more intriguing.