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Lithium in Kashmir- why this could be a game changer in India

As large deposits of lithium resources are discovered in Kashmir, how could it affect India's budding electronic vehicles (EV) industry?

India's ministry of mines handed over 16 geological reports to state governments at the Central Geological Programming Board Meeting

In a breakthrough development set to have important implications for the critical minerals industry, lithium reserves have been found in the Indian region of Jammu and Kashmir. The discovery of the 5.9 tonnes of lithium discovered by the Geological Survey of India (GSI) in Reasi District of Jammu and Kashmir is perhaps the most significant in terms of revolutionising the critical mineral supply chain. India’s ministry of mines confirmed the discovery of about fifty one mineral blocks spread across eleven states. The lithium inferred resources (g3) were particularly found in the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

It has been reiterated time and again that the demand in India for the resources of lithium has been growing at a rapid rate over the last few years and India has possibly reached out to develop bilateral partnerships with key countries such as Australia and Argentina when it comes to lithium. However, the discovery of large reserves of lithium on the home ground will steer the global lithium supply chain and is likely to make India an important player in the sector.

The emphasis laid on the discovery of large lithium reserves in the Indian territory has sparked an important question, how is lithium used?

Lithium is a very critical resource when it comes to the manufacturing of batteries for electronics and the process of transitioning away from the non-renewable sources of energy. As the world develops greater capacity for electric powered appliances, even eclectic vehicles (EV), the demand for lithium is likely to increase even further. One speculated implication of this breakthrough discovery is a rapid boom in the electronic vehicles (EV) industry in India.

While it may be true, the lithium reserves themselves may not be particularly beneficial. There needs to be a thorough and meticulous process of extraction of the mineral through mining. This brings the question of lithium mining.

Lithium mining

Even though there is a larger consensus on the ultimate use of lithium as an important critical mineral, the process of lithium mining may not sit well with the environmental conservationists. This is because the process of mining and extraction of these minerals could have severe ecological repercussions. The process of mining lithium also depends upon the extraction sites, for example in Australia the resource is extracted from ore mining while in the South American region, particularly Chile, lithium is extracted through salt flats. After mining lithium, it is refined further to make it suitable for being used in batteries.

Amidst all of this lie the environmental consequences such as droughts, negative impacts on the vegetation in the surrounding areas. The extent of the lithium extraction from the ores could also have an impact on the groundwater and may run the risk of groundwater contamination.

The high utility of the mineral, coupled with the increasing need to transition away from the non renewable resources of energy has given lithium the status of ‘white gold.’ So what are the major producers of this white gold and with the new discovery of lithium reserves can India become an important player in the race?

One of the most important producers of lithium is Australia, with the production of around 55,000 tonnes, followed by Chile and China. Majority of the lithium exports from Australia also arrive in China. The engagement with this resource thus has a significant strategic value as well and this is why with the new reserves found in Kashmir, India could aim to become a major player in the extraction and production of lithium for the rest of the world as well.

The local manufacturing of lithium ion batteries within India could help transform the electronic vehicles sector and India could transition from being a dependent consumer of the resource to a strategic producer. It was only recently that India’s ministry of mines also discovered small lithium resources in Karnataka and this had led to a renewed interest into the efforts to establish other resource rich sites across the country. While India has aimed to diversify its strategic partnerships across the different lithium producing countries, especially the critical minerals partnership with Australia, it becomes very important for India to carve its own place in the race of producers of lithium.

Lithium processing

As mentioned earlier, the extraction of lithium is followed by a rigorous step of processing the mineral in order to make it suitable to be used in batteries. As India now enters into the list of countries possessing the lithium resource capability, what are the country’s processing capacities?

The lithium ion batteries are perhaps the most important and expensive component of electric vehicles. This adds to the strategic importance of the mineral and the cost of manufacturing and production can become overbearing as well which also impacts the cost of importing the mineral. At present, the Monuth Group of Chennai is working towards building the lithium ion manufacturing unit with the investment of around 800 crores. A similar project is underway in Bangalore by the Exide Industries. India is also building manufacturing units in collaboration with Japan’s Toshiba and Suzuki Motor Corporation in Gujarat under the name of TDS Lithium-ion Battery Gujarat Private Limited. The TATA Chemicals of the TATA Group has also invested in a 127 acres land in Gujarat to set up a lithium ion manufacturing unit.

A production linked incentive scheme was also approved by the Union Cabinet two years back that aimed towards upscaling the capacities of the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) to develop lithium ion production units to move away from making lead-acid batteries.

In a world trying to transition towards environmentally sustainable and viable ways of energy production, lithium becomes an important stepping stone however the ecological dilemma still lies at the heart of the question of lithium mining much like the mining of other minerals. This makes it all the more important for India and other lithium producing countries to develop sustainable technological know-how and build capacity towards a regulated extraction of lithium minerals.

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