The recent announcement by India’s Geological Survey of India (GSI) on its preliminary exploration of lithium reserves has excited many industries dependent on the rare alkali metal. According to the GSI, it has established “inferred lithium resources” – which are calculated based on physical and chemical survey of the surface and samples – along the Salal-Haimana region of Reasi district in Jammu. -and-Kashmir.
The news has given hope to manufacturers of lithium batteries, electric vehicles, solar equipment and other industries that are currently addicted on lithium imports from China and other countries. According to the government data from the Ministry of Commerce and Industries, between April and December 2022-23, India paid Rs 163 billion for the import of lithium and lithium-ion.
Aditya Vikram, managing director of Renon India, a lithium-ion battery maker in Gujarat, told Mongabay-India that if the metal is available in the domestic market, the cost of producing the battery can drop by 5 to 7 percent. . India currently imports all major components that go into manufacturing Li-ion cells are currently imported.
“Lithium batteries consist of approximately 100 to 200 lithium cells for electric two-wheeler applications. Lithium cells are made up of elements such as lithium, cobalt, manganese, nickel, copper, graphite and others. The advantage that the internal market can give us is a stable supply independent of geopolitical developments,” he said.
He added that those who depend on imports often face fluctuating prices of imported lithium batteries due to growing imbalances in the exchange rate between the dollar and the rupee and supply chain issues.
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The ambitious plan of the Indian government to achieve net zero by 2070 can potentially increase the demand for lithium. As the country races to transition to clean energy, there will be a higher need for lithium as electric vehicles (EVs) and clean energy storage devices are currently dependent on metal.
According at NITI Aayog, total electric vehicle sales by 2030 could rise from 1.3 million to 80 million sales reported up to July 2022. A report from the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) says that by 2029-30, India will have 2,700 megawatts of battery storage capacity.
GSI originally mapped and reported the presence of lithium deposits in the area over two decades ago, in 1999. Mapping by GSI is the very first step towards identifying any mineral. This is followed by the next phase of exploration where inferred resources are calculated based on a physical and chemical study of the surface and samples.
It took two decades for the country to move from the G4 (reconnaissance) stage, where resource mapping takes place, to the G3 (prospecting) stage, where quantities are inferred, based on the interpretation of geological, geophysical and geochemical properties and a deposit is identified which will be the target of further exploration. In the next stage, G2 (general exploration), further studies are carried out to estimate the shape, size and grade of the minerals. Finally, stage G1 (detailed exploration) is where the characteristics of the deposit are established with great precision. The decision to conduct a feasibility study afterwards can be made based on the information provided by step G1. GSI has adopted this classification of mineral exploration from the United National Framework Classification for mineral reserves of 2009.
Pankaj Srivastava, a professor of geology at the University of Jammu, told Mongabay-India that the G3 exploration at J&K is preliminary in nature, where confidence in calculations is low. It needs to be backed up with more evidence to back up the amount of minerals available at these sites. The current study does not indicate whether metal mining is possible on the site.
“To be on the safe side, exploration companies are undertaking the G2 assessment level after G3, where indicative resources are calculated, which tells us which part of the deposit could be exploited with more facts. Later at the G1 level, small exploration mining is carried out to determine if the area is precisely ready for mining, and the real “proven resource assessment” is carried out at this level,” he added.
Early estimates indicate that the amount of lithium at Reasi could be as high as 5.9 million tonnes. As noted in the 1999 GSI report, however, lithium in Reasi district is mixed with bauxite. The amount of the final deposit could be lower than that provided for at the G3 level. The lithium found at Reasi had a grade above 800 ppm (parts per million), suggesting a higher level of enrichment. Any lithium ore above 300 ppm grade is considered to have good beneficiation value, Srivastava said.
Why progress in exploring such crucial material was slow after 1999 is unclear. Emails sent by Mongabay-India to GSI Headquarters in New Delhi, its Public Relations Officer in Kolkata and the Department of Mines of the Government of Jammu and Kashmir have not received a response at the time of publication. .
India also had another claim of lithium deposits, in 2021, when India’s Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research (AMDER) claimed to find 1,600 tonnes of metal in the Marlagalla area in the Mandya district of Karnataka. Lithium reconnaissance resources (found after reconnaissance level G4) are also explored along Saraswati river in Jodhpur and Barmer districts of Rajasthan in brines. Lithium is trace and extracts rocks, clays, sediments and salt water (brine) from the surface of underground water bodies.
The journey of lithium from mining to battery
Deepak Krishnan, associate director of the energy program at the World Resources Institute (WRI)-India, told Mongabay-India that GSI’s recent discovery has a long journey before it becomes commercially viable to extract lithium from the region and into the production of lithium-ion batteries.
“We have to wait to see how much of this resource is feasible and viable to extract commercially. Further study of the GSI will reveal the quantum of the total reserve. Mining alone would not bring an end to external dependency. Countries like China have developed additional infrastructure and technological expertise, as well as experience in processing and refining mined lithium to make it ready for use in batteries. We have nothing on that front and we would need energy, capital and government support for that,” Krishnan said.
Lithium is known to efficiently convert chemical energy into electrical energy due to its high durability, light weight and endurance. Sagar Mitra, a professor in the Department of Energy Science and Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Bombay, told Mongabay-India that unlike Chile, where there are lithium deposits, the Reasi area at J&K had lithium mixed with other minerals in the rocks. This can lead to more challenges in terms of cost and processing technology.
“India is not used to extracting lithium and purifying it. It is mixed with rocks and other minerals. This would require breaking up rocks and removing volatile chemicals with evaporation and magnetic impurities with magnets in addition to other chemicals and processing. India has never done this, and neither the best experience, nor the tested technology to rely on, nor the established industries for it,” he said.
He also added that such a complex exercise could also prove costly. “However, Australia has lithium reserves similar to J&K, where the lithium is mixed with bauxite. We may need technology transfer and rapprochement with the lithium mining industry metal outside,” he said, adding that India needed to speed up the whole process, bearing in mind the growing demand for batteries and electric vehicles.
Surendra Chaku, a retired geologist based in Australia, has also worked in India on explorations. He claimed that the event reported by GSI is a very preliminary assessment of the area, and one should wait for a proven final estimate before jumping to a conclusion.
“No resource has been defined yet, and many have been promoting it. It’s happened so many times before. It seems that this project can never be exploited. So the question of mining in this region pristine Himalayas remains only speculation,” he said.
Deposits in the Himalayan region
According to seismic zoning map of India, the whole of Jammu and Kashmir, located close to the Himalayas, falls under zone IV and is also environmentally sensitive. Several internationals reports in countries where lithium mining takes place spoke about the impact of environmental degradation in these areas.
The metal is usually extracted from brines by direct mining technology, by brine evaporation, or by surface mining of clays and rocks.
August 1, 2022 report Posted in nature conservation claimed that proven technologies for extracting lithium by surface mining or brine evaporation would require hundreds of acres of land for extraction and could result in the complete removal of native vegetation from the area. He also said such projects are more likely to occur in rural areas and wilderness areas, affecting local people and advocating for sustainable metal mining methods.
The Reasi district in J&K, where the lithium deposits were discovered, is home to rural households, vegetation, and the Chenab River and its tributaries near its hills.
The article was originally published in Mongabay-India.