Lithium, energy source for future: Geological Survey has been digging for it

Lithium, a key ingredient in rechargeable batteries, is critical for furthering India's electric vehicle ambitions. Representational image: Steve Morfi / Shutterstock

New Delhi: Lithium has become the most sought-after matter ever since its potential as a high-yielding energy source like batteries, which are being increasingly used in electric vehicles, has been discovered. The mining of lithium ore is on the rise in India of late.

While nearly 5.9 million tonnes of lithium reserves have been discovered in Reasi district of Jammu and Kashmir; however, during the last five years, the Geological Survey of India (GSI), an attached office of the Ministry of Mines, has carried out 20 projects on lithium and associated elements in Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Jammu & Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh, Meghalaya, Rajasthan.

The recent announcement by the government about the discovery of the largest reserves of lithium in the country triggered a lot of hope and curiosity.

During the field season programme 2022-23, the GSI has taken up 18 projects on lithium and associated elements in Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Rajasthan. However, the resource of lithium has not yet been augmented by the GSI.

As per information from the Ministry, Mineral Exploration & Consultancy Limited, a CPSE under the Ministry of Mines, has undertaken an exploration project for lithium in Ladakh. Further, the Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research, a constituent unit of the Department of Atomic Energy, is carrying out exploration for lithium in parts of Mandya and Yadgir districts in Karnataka.

The Ministry has also informed that Khanij Bidesh India Ltd. (KABIL), a joint venture of three CPSEs under the Ministry of Mines, is exploring opportunities for investment in lithium mines in Argentina and Australia.

KABIL is mandated to identify and acquire overseas mineral assets of critical and strategic nature such as lithium, cobalt and others to ensure supply side assurance.

On the basis of the commissioned study and selection criteria, KABIL has initiated engagements with several state owned organisations of the shortlisted source countries through the Ministry of External Affairs and the Indian Embassies in countries like Argentina and Australia to acquire mineral assets overseas - primarily the critical and strategic minerals including lithium, cobalt and others and not Rare Earth Elements.

Officials said that every year, as per the approved annual Field Season Programme (FSP), the Geological Survey of India takes up different stages of mineral exploration including reconnaissance surveys, preliminary exploration and general exploration following the guidelines of the United Nations Framework Classification (UNFC) and the Mineral Evidence and Mineral Content Rules (MEMC-2015) for augmenting mineral resources for various mineral commodities including lithium.

Lithium, a key ingredient in rechargeable batteries, is critical for furthering India's electric vehicle ambitions. India's plan to increase EV penetration by 30% by 2030 depends mostly on lithium -- as of now, only a little more than 1% of all vehicle sales in the country are electric vehicles.

Currently, the country is import-dependent for many minerals like lithium, nickel and cobalt. Lithium reserves are concentrated in the lithium triangle in South America -- Argentina, Bolivia and Chile, with 50% of the deposits concentrated in these regions. China, meanwhile, has the lead over other countries and controls 75% of lithium refining.

Apart from EVs, lithium is also widely used in the medical sector and electronics industry with power phones, solar panels, and other renewable technologies needed for the transition to clean energy.

While there is still limited information on the timeline for production and commercially viable reserves, the discovery is important for India.

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