India’s Mines Ministry has initiated the process to on-board local partners to start exploration activities for lithium in Argentina, officials said.

The state-owned KABIL (Khanij Bidesh India Ltd) -- a joint venture between NALCO, Hindustan Copper and Mineral Exploration Corporation Ltd (MECL) -- which is driving the process, had acquired five lithium brine blocks, namely Cortadera-I, Cortadera-VII, Cortadera-VIII, Cateo-2022-01810132 and Cortadera-VI in January 2024.

KABIL will also set up a branch office in the Latin American nation, a government official told businessline.

“The estimated cost (for development and exploration) is about ₹200 crore which will be spread over a five year period,” the official added.

The brine blocks cover an area of about 15,703 hectares in the Catamarca district of Argentina. Blocks were acquired for exploration and development, and off take of lithium, from their state-owned entity, CAMYEN (Catamarca Minera Y Energetica Sociedad Del Estado).

The laws in Argentina mandate that there be “involvement of local partners” across stages like exploration and development, and in other processes too, the official said. The local exploration agency will be responsible for obtaining the necessary clearances (and other government-mandated approvals). It will also start drilling activities post these.

“We (India) have obtained exploration and exclusivity right for these five blocks. The agreement will allow us to evaluate, prospect and explore the reserves. And upon subsequent discovery of lithium mineral, right for commercial production has also been allowed. So we are in the process of on-boarding a local partner who will get the approvals, and start the process,” the official said.

Lithium, known as “white gold” is said to be amongst the corner stone of India’s switch to green energy and reduction in carbon footprint. Lithium is used extensively as energy storage solutions, batteries and so on across segments like mobile phones, electric vehicles, etc. India’s lithium requirements are currently met through imports with the bill running to around ₹24,000 crore annually. Most of the supplies come from China.

The MoU states that there is a five year time-frame given to KABIL within which exploration activities across these blocks have to start; failing which “hefty fines” have to be paid. “There are confirmed reserves across the blocks that we have acquired. Studies by the government there and by our geologist too confirm the findings,” the official said.