India has identified two lithium mines and one copper mine in Argentina for a possible acquisition or long-term lease. Commercial evaluation of the mines have begun and a report regarding this is expected by end February, a senior official of the Ministry of Mines told businessline.

It may be recalled that the Centre had sent a team of three geologists to the Latin American nation “to assess potential lithium deposits” and possible acquisition opportunities in November last year. The team comprised of one geologist each from the Mineral Exploration Corporation Ltd (MECL), KABIL (Khanij Bidesh India Ltd) and the Geological Survey of India (GSI).

KABIL, a joint venture formed through the participation of National Aluminium Company (Nalco), Hindustan Copper (HCL) and MECL, aims to ensure consistent supply of critical and strategic minerals in the domestic market.

Pacts inked

According to Ministry officials, ownership (in case of acquisition or infusion of equity) or leasing rights of all the three mines will be with KABIL.

“Subsequent to preliminary assessment, KABIL expressed interest to partner with a state-owned organisation there in December for prospecting the identified areas and exploring the possibility of establishing projects for extraction of lithium in due course of time. Commercial evaluation of the same has begun at our end here,” the official said.

So farm KABIL has signed non-binding MoUs for sharing information with respect to prospective acreages of lithium with three state-owned organisations of Argentina, said sources.

Argentina is ranked among the main mineral reserves across the globe. Together with Chile and Bolivia, the north-west of the country forms the so-called “Lithium Triangle” and is currently the fourth largest producer. The country also has the third largest world reserve of lithium – the main component of batteries and other electronics used, including in rechargeable batteries (used in EVs) and energy storage solutions.

Australia is the top lithium producer globally. The US and China, too, are key producers of the mineral besides the Lithium Triangle.

Mining process

Lithium is found in cedemine rock formation and in brine form, which is called salar in Latin America. The other alternative is its liquid form. In South America, lithium is typically extracted from the salt flats by pumping brine into ponds and processing the lithium salts that crystallise once the water has evaporated. It requires time and investment to set up, but thereafter, the production is cheaper than the hard-rock mining practiced in Australia, those in the know said.

Argentina is already witnessing substantial investment in the sector from international players, including China-backed firms.