Indian iron-ore merchant miner NMDC is eyeing partnerships with Australian miners and prospecting agencies for lithium mining. It is also in talks with the Australian government to take up mines as and when they come up, said sources in the Indian government.

The CPSE, which is under the Steel Ministry, has recently signed an MoU with Australia’s Hancock Prospecting Pty Ltd for lithium, but things are at a very nascent stage, said those familiar with the development.

Lithium deposits are critical for India as the country looks at pushing EVs. Lithium-ion batteries are critical for EV transition – both in the public and private transportation space. India depends on import, primarily for non-ferrous, alkali metal, and also import all major components that go into lithium-ion cell manufacturing.

“NMDC signed the MoU with Hancock, some six months back for prospecting lithium. But things are at a nascent stage now. We can determine the deposit or nature of the reserve post prospecting. Most of the prospecting will be in the West Australian region,” the official told businessline.

“They are also on the lookout for more tie-ups, mostly partnerships, for lithium exploration. Some discussions are on with the government, too, on taking up lithium mines,” said the official.

Australia is among the top six lithium producers globally, along with Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, the US and China.

Mt Bevan Project

NMDC has a Perth-based subsidiary, Legacy Mineral, which is the joint owner of Mt Bevan iron ore project located in West Australia. The prospecting activities that it is carrying out, also with Hancock, include exploration and mining of rare earth and other critical minerals such as copper, tungsten, cobalt, nickle and lithium.

This is in addition to the iron ore mining that will be carried out. In India, the company has already obtained a prospecting licence to carry out exploration activities for lithium reserves in Karnataka. Work on exploration is yet to begin.

India’s Lithium Push

India discovered its first lithium reserves in Jammu & Kashmir – of 5.9 million tonnes – and the Geographical Survey of India (GSI) is also carrying out exploration in the Panasa – Dugga – Baldhanum – Chakar – Sangarmarg region of the State.

Extractable reserve will be established by the lessee post auction of the the Salal-Haimna block.

This apart, the GSI is also carrying out exploration in eight other States – Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Gujarat, Nagaland and in Ladakh.

India’s lithium ion import (which covers electric accumulators, including separators) bill stood at ₹18,554.12 crore in the April-January period of this fiscal, with nearly 76 per cent of these coming from China, according to last records placed in Parliament.

On the other hand, lithium imports (covering primary cells and batteries) stood at around ₹209 crore for the 10-month period, with China and Hong Kong being the top two countries at 30 per cent and 25 per cent, respectively.

In FY22, imports for lithium ion was ₹13,673.15 crore, while for lithium it was ₹165.08 crore.