India’s first big lithium deposits could lead to India’s moment in advanced battery technology and self-sufficiency in EV power.
India has announced its first significant discovery of reserves of lithium, a rare element crucial for manufacturing electric vehicles. The government said that 5.9m tonnes of the element had been discovered in Jammu and Kashmir. So far, India has depended on Australia and Argentina for lithium imports.
The Geological Survey of India found the lithium reserves in the Salal-Haimana area of Reasi district in Jammu and Kashmir, India’s Ministry of Mines said. In 2021, much smaller deposits of lithium were found in the southern state of Karnataka.
Why the discovery is a big deal for India?
India has lately been looking to strengthen its supply of key minerals, including lithium, that will be critical for furthering its electric vehicle plans. Earlier, the mines ministry had said that to strengthen the critical mineral supply chain for emerging technologies, the government is taking several proactive measures to secure minerals, including lithium, from Australia and Argentina. Currently, India is import-dependent on many minerals like lithium, nickel, and cobalt.
Fifty percent of the deposits are concentrated in three South American countries – Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile. Thus, these lithium reserves become a big deal for India as they will help expand its penetration of EVs in the coming years. Speaking at a Central Geological Programming board meeting, Mines Secretary Vivek Bharadwaj said that whether it is a mobile phone or a solar panel, critical minerals are required everywhere. To become self-reliant, it is very important for the country to find out critical minerals and also process them, he added.
As lithium has been discovered in India for the first time, here’s a look at five interesting facts about the key component in the manufacturing of batteries for electric vehicles (EV):
1. The only metal to be borne out of the Big Bang, lithium is also the lightest metal. It produces an inflammable reaction with water – intense enough to burn flesh.
2. Mainly used in ceramics and glass, greases, pharmaceutical compounds, air conditioners, and aluminum production, it is dominant in the battery materials market for the highest energy storage capacity per kilogram, owing to it being the least dense metal. It is extremely useful in cases where weight is a factor. For instance, a Tesla car can operate on a 600 kg lithium-ion battery. The same, if dependent on lead-acid batteries, would require 4000 kg.
3. Unlike lead-acid, lithium-ion batteries can be discharged down to around 10% capacity without failure, and recharged and discharged thousands of times.
4. Found as a solid mineral in rock, and clay deposits, as well as dissolved in brine, more than half of the world’s lithium comes from Australia. Of the total lithium available, only 18% is currently accessible. Chile, Argentina, and Bolivia are known as the ‘Lithium Triangle’ as South America sits on a ‘lithium mine’ possessing at least half of the total lithium in the world, as per US geological survey estimates. The world’s largest lithium deposit is in Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia, where mining is currently restricted due to government rules. Although lithium is limited, scientists have discovered that oceans hold an immensely diluted form of 180 billion tonnes of metal.
5. California is not just home to Silicon Valley, but a ‘Lithium Valley’, too. Investors, policymakers, startups, and energy providers are in the process of extracting the geothermal brines of the Salton Sea to mine Lithium in a ‘green’ way and build a battery manufacturing and innovation hub. The lithium reserve in the Salton Sea region is expected to power over 50 million EVs in a few years.
Around the world, the demand for rare metals, including lithium, has increased as countries look to adopt greener solutions to slow down climate change. However, experts say that the process of mining lithium is not environment-friendly.
Lithium is extracted from hard rocks and underground brine reservoirs largely found in Australia, Chile, and Argentina.
After it is mined, it is roasted using fossil fuels, searing the landscape and leaving behind scars. The extraction process also requires a lot of water and releases large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
To extract it from underground reservoirs, many of which are found in water-scarce Argentina – a large amount of water is used, leading to protests from indigenous communities, who say that such activity is exhausting natural resources and leading to acute water shortages.