Will the Lithium find be a hit or miss for India?

Autocar Professional connects with an industry expert to find out more about the viability of the greatest recent mineral resource find in India in recent times that could have a profound impact on the EV ecosystem .

By Radhika Dave calendar 23 May 2023 Views icon9280 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp
Will the Lithium find be a hit or miss for India?

India’s imports of lithium-ion batteries jumped 54 percent to US$1.83 billion from a year earlier in the year ended March, Trade Ministry data show and almost 87 percent of the purchases came from China and Hong Kong. India wants to reduce drastically imports from its northern neighbour and hence the strategy of self-reliance is of top order and finding the resource significant in the current scenario.

While the recent find of lithium resources by the Geological Survey of India has brought in cheers for the stakeholders, there’s much more to consider before the country can really celebrate.

Moushumi Mohanty, Head of Electric Mobility Programme at the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) says that the lithium find in Jammu drew a lot of attention mainly because of its size — 5.9 million tonnes, compared to other locations in other countries with lithium reserves like Chile (9.2 million tonnes) and Australia (6.2 million tonnes). Does this mean that India has won itself a spot among primary lithium sourcing destinations? Before one comes to any conclusions, Mohanty examines the information available on the find.

The lithium find is G3 or 'inferred' resources. In plain speak, she says it is a mineral resource for which there is evidence of the mineral's presence but is not verified. “It needs to be verified for grade quality, quantity and more specifically grade continuity across the reserves. With an inferred resource, these parameters can be estimated with a fairly low level of confidence. This exercise is usually based on information gathered through appropriate techniques from locations such as outcrops, trenches, pits, workings and drill holes which may be of limited or uncertain quality and also reliability,” she says. Mineral Resources are categorised in order of increasing geological confidence, into inferred, indicated and measured resources. Indicated resources or G2 have an economic case. They have been sampled to a point where an estimate has been made, at a reasonable level of confidence, of what they contain — metal, grade, tonnage, shape, densities and physical characteristics.

Measured resources or G1 are indicated resources that have undergone enough sampling that a 'competent person' (defined by the norms of the relevant mining code; usually a geologist) has declared them to be an acceptable estimate, at a high degree of confidence, of the grade (or quality), quantity, shape, densities and physical characteristics of the mineral occurrence. If the Geological Survey of India has categorised the resources as G3, clearly there are two more levels of exploration to be conducted before GSI can announce the feasibility of mining at the location.

What is the grade quality of the find?
The concentration in the rock is between 500-1000 ppm (0.05 percent-0.1 percent). According to a 2010 report by global testing and certification service provider SGS Minerals Services, a typical spodumene concentrate suitable for lithium carbonate production contains six to seven percent Li2O or lithium oxide. Lithium carbonate is a precursor to the lithium compounds that are used in lithium ion batteries. Spodumene, which is considered the most important lithium ore mineral, has a theoretical lithium oxide content of 80,300 ppm. This means that the extraction of the mineral from the ore found in Jammu will be highly energy intensive, since it exists in such low concentrations.

"If GSI finds in a later exploration that the lithium find in Reasi is indeed viable, the prospect of mining lithiumin Reasi will need to be approached with caution," she says. Extracting Li from hard rock mines, similar to what has already been proposed in Jammu, entails open-pit-mining followed by roasting the ore using fossil fuels. Industry estimates suggest that this process consumes 170 cubic metres of water and releases 15 tonnes of CO2 for every tonne of lithium extracted.

Open-pit-mining, refining, and waste disposal from these processes substantially degrades the environment. It depletes and contaminates waterways and groundwater, diminishes biodiversity, and releases considerable air pollution. This said, the geological context of mining in Jammu differs from Australia, which has the largest Li stock in hard rock mines, in one major way.

In Australia, Li-bearing pegmatite deposits are found in the ancient geological regions of Pilbara and Yilgarn cratons, whose continental rocks have been stable for over a billion years. The Himalayas, on the other hand, is the youngest mountain range in the world and is much more unstable (as evidenced by the ongoing tragedy in Joshimath). Incidents of land sinking have also been reported from a village in Doda district in Chenab valley, which extends to some parts of Reasi.

This feature was first published in Autocar Professional's May 15, 2023 issue.

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