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Topic : India’s Lithium Mining Landscape
GS-3 Mains  : Economy
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Lithium: A Critical Mineral for the Future

Lithium is a key component of Lithium-ion batteries, powering electric vehicles (EVs), consumer electronics, and energy storage systems. As the world transitions towards a clean energy future, the demand for lithium is rapidly increasing. India, with its growing EV industry and ambitious renewable energy targets, recognizes the strategic importance of securing lithium resources.

Where is Lithium Found?

Lithium occurs naturally in various forms, including:

  • Mineral deposits (hard rock): Found in granite and pegmatite rock formations. This is the type of lithium deposit present in India.
  • Brine deposits: Lithium-rich brines exist underground in salt lakes and can be extracted for processing.
  • Mineral springs: These naturally occurring springs contain dissolved lithium.
  • Seawater: Lithium is present in very small quantities in seawater. Extraction technologies are under development to make this process commercially viable.

Traditional Lithium Powerhouses vs. New Players

Historically, the United States dominated lithium production. However, in the 21st century, the landscape has shifted. Today, countries like Australia, Chile, and Portugal are the leading lithium producers. India, with its nascent lithium mining industry, is aiming to join this group.

The Importance of Lithium Carbonate

Lithium carbonate (Li2CO3) is the most common commercial form of lithium. It’s extracted from various sources and used in multiple applications:

  • Lithium-ion batteries: The primary use of lithium carbonate is in the production of cathodes for Lithium-ion batteries.
  • Metal refining: Lithium acts as a scavenger, removing impurities during the refining of other metals.
  • Organic synthesis: Lithium compounds are used as catalysts or reagents in various organic chemical reactions.

Beyond Batteries: Diverse Uses of Lithium

Lithium’s unique properties lead to a wide range of applications:

  • Lightweight alloys: Used in aerospace due to their high strength-to-weight ratio.
  • Hydrogen production: Lithium reacts with water to produce hydrogen gas, a potential clean fuel source.
  • Lubricating greases: Lithium-based greases offer high performance and resistance to extreme temperatures.
  • Nuclear applications: Lithium is used in tritium production (used in fusion reactors) and as a heat transfer fluid.
  • Medicine: Lithium is a mood stabilizer used in the treatment of bipolar disorder.

India’s Lithium Mining Journey: Progress and Challenges

India’s efforts to develop domestic lithium resources have met with mixed results:

  • Success Story: Chhattisgarh – Exploration in Korba district shows promise. Initial findings indicate lithium deposits ranging from 168 to 295 parts per million (ppm). One block has advanced to the second round of auctions, and another shows positive exploration results.
  • Setbacks in Other Regions
    • Jammu & Kashmir: The auction for a lithium block in Reasi district was cancelled due to weak investor interest despite promising initial readings of over 200 ppm Li.
    • Manipur: Exploration efforts in Kamjong district were halted due to local community resistance.
    • Ladakh & Assam: Exploration in Ladakh’s Merak block yielded disappointing results, while projects in Dhubri and Kokrajhar districts of Assam might be dropped due to low lithium concentration.

Challenges Hinder Domestic Lithium Production

  • Difficult Extraction: Extracting lithium from hard rock formations like those in India is more complex and expensive compared to brine deposits.
  • Investor Hesitation: Lower lithium concentrations in some regions and the need for significant upfront investment in extraction infrastructure discourage potential investors.
  • Mineral Reporting Standards: Inconsistent and non-rigorous reporting standards make it difficult for investors to accurately assess the potential of Indian lithium resources.

India’s Global Push

Recognizing the limitations of domestic resources, India is also exploring opportunities overseas:

  • Argentina: Khanij Bidesh India Limited (KABIL) secured exploration and extraction rights for lithium across five blocks in Argentina’s Catamarca province.
  • Sri Lanka & Australia: Several Indian companies are actively seeking partnerships and acquisitions to secure critical lithium assets in these countries.

The Road Ahead

Despite the challenges, India’s progress in Chhattisgarh’s Korba district offers a glimmer of hope. Here’s what needs to happen:

  • Robust Mineral Reporting Standards: Establishing clear and internationally recognized standards will boost investor confidence in India’s lithium potential.
  • Innovation in Extraction Technologies: Developing cost-effective methods to extract lithium from hard rock formations is crucial for long-term success.


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