In a first for the country, India plans to auction blocks of lithium mines, recently discovered in Jammu and Kashmir, between April and June. Indian companies and foreign entities with a local subsidiary can participate in the auction, a mines ministry official said.
The ministry, through the Geological Survey of India (GSI), will also undertake new explorations for lithium reserves in parts of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh from the next fiscal.
India had recently declared that it has established “lithium inferred resources” — calculated on the basis of physical and chemical study of the surface and samples — along the Salal-Haimana area of Reasi district in Jammu & Kashmir.
The resources are to the tune of 5.9 million tonnes (mt), and the mines are at a preliminary exploration stage (also called G3). Most of the resources are in rock formation and those acquiring the blocks may need to put up processing plants.
“Currently, plans are afoot to auction these lithium mines in J&K sometime in Q1FY24. As per the law, foreign companies that have an Indian subsidiary can bid, apart from Indian players including PSUs,” the official told businessline.
Lithium, an alkali metal, is one of the key components in rechargeable batteries used in mobiles, laptops, electric vehicles and medical devices like pace-makers. It is also used in energy storage solutions.
India currently imports all the major components that go into lithium-ion cell manufacturing, with the import bill estimated at around ₹16,300 crore during the April–December period this fiscal.
China controls nearly 77 per cent of lithium-ion manufacturing capacities and six of the 10 major producers are based there. It also controls mines globally by investing in the companies that mine the metal.
The EU, the US, Canada, India, and other major economies are trying to arrange alternative supplies to challenge the Chinese dominance.
For example, the Canadian government, citing national security concerns, has asked Chinese companies to divest from Canadian lithium mining companies.
Mines ministry sources said the GSI had mapped and reported lithium deposits in the J&K region in 1999.
Mapping is considered the first step in identifying the presence of a mineral, followed by exploration. India moved from reconnaissance or mapping stage (G4) to prospecting stage (g3) for the lithium mines. The next stage, G2 (general exploration) entails studies to estimate the shape, size and grade of minerals. And, ultimately, in the G1 stage, the characteristics of the deposit are established with accuracy.
According to mines ministry officials, there will be more “field studies in the Himalayan regions” — Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh — given the topographical similarities.
“GSI will plan some explorations and mapping studies in these two states and, most likely, they will be taken up during the field season this year (summer months). Discussions are on,” the official said.