India is closing in on lithium reserves overseas, said Pralhad Joshi, Union Minister of Mines, Coal and Parliamentary Affairs. While there is “limited resource availability” of lithium and critical minerals, the plan going forward would be to secure supplies from other countries.

According to Joshi, the Geological Survey of India (GSI) has taken up 125 exploration projects this year, the highest ever, as the Ministry is upping the ante on the availability of critical and strategic minerals within India.

Earlier this year, a list of 30 critical minerals was announced that include lithium, cobalt, copper, graphite, molybdenum, nickel, platinum of elements (PGE), phosphorous, potash, rare earth elements (REE), silicon, tin, titanium, and tungsten.

On Wednesday, India put up for auction two lithium blocks, apart from18 other critical mineral blocks, across six other States. Lithium, an alkali metal, is one of the key components in rechargeable batteries that find usage in mobiles, laptops, electric vehicles, and in medical devices like pacemakers. It is also used in energy storage solutions. The white metal is also a cornerstone in India’s green energy transition aspirations.

Post the launch of the auctions, Joshi spoke to businessline on how India is securing its supply of critical minerals, including lithium. Edited excerpts:

Q

India’s lithium import bill is quite high. Your comments.  

The country’s lithium import bill is pegged at around ₹24,000 crore annually. We have added two lithium blocks for the auction – one in Salal-Haimna in Jammu & Kashmir and the second being Katghora in Chhattisgarh. I am confident more blocks will be put up for auctions in the coming days.

This apart, we are also going to acquire mines (lithium) overseas [to secure supplies]. That will happen shortly. We are taking advice from the Prime Minister in this regard.

Q

Any possible guidance on what sort of import numbers we could look at for this fiscal? 

Import numbers are going to increase for the time being. We need lithium for energy storage solutions. And India continues to have a limited resource of lithium and other critical mineral, according to the data available with us. We are also among the fastest growing EV markets, and the demand for the metal continues to be high. So we will [have to] work on securing supplies from overseas; and whatever is available within the country, we will fully explore it and utilise those resources, too.

Q

How are the talks for overseas acquisitions progressing? 

Discussions are on. And overseas acquisitions are under consideration. We need to get the Cabinet approval for that.

Q

And will it be direct acquisition or partnerships? 

These will vary on country-to-country basis, and the type of agreement we enter into. So, it could be a direct acquisition, or picking up stake(s), or any other possible option. There is no such rule of thumb that we are going by at present.

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