India is exploring the possibility of investing in lithium mines overseas, and also commercial agreements with foreign governments and counties, Union Minister for Mines, Pralhad Joshi, said.

These would mostly be long-term agreements; and are likely to be through the Khanij Bidesh India Ltd. – a joint venture of the Mines Ministry between National Aluminium Company Ltd (NALCO), Hindustan Copper Ltd. (HCL), and Mineral Exploration and Consultancy Ltd.

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.

While Argentina is one of the countries with which sourcing discussions are on, the other countries on the radar include Australia.

Argentina is ranked among the main mineral reserves worldwide. Together with Chile and Bolivia, the northwest of the country forms the so-called “Lithium Triangle” and is currently the fourth largest producer and has the third largest world reserve of lithium.

Australia is the top lithium producer globally. Apart from the Lithium Triangle nations, key producers include the USA and China.

“KABIL is exploring commercial agreements with foreign governments and countries for sourcing lithium and critical minerals. These would be long-term agreements. So obviously, some of the details are under non-disclosure agreements,” he said while talking about the Ministry’s achievements between 2014 and 2023.

Indian Imports

India currently imports all major components that go into lithium-ion cell manufacturing.

The country’s lithium-ion import bill for FY23 was ₹23,171 crore. It covers electric accumulators, including separators. In FY22, imports for lithium-ion were ₹13,673.15 crore.

“We are focussed on securing critical mineral. Exploration of lithium and cobalt, along with other critical minerals are on,” Joshi said, adding that the Geographical Society of India (GSI) is already carrying out 100-odd projects in the country.

Jammu & Kashmir lithium reserve

The country’s largest and only lithium block discovery has been in the Salal Haimana area in the Resai district of Jammu & Kashmir. The inferred resource is to the tune of 5.9 million tonnes, mostly in rock form, and plans for auction of the blocks are underway by the State Government.

The Ministry is in the process of working out the ASP or reserve price of these reserves.

“For the field season 2023-24, the GSI is interested in taking up exploration and surveys in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. These are extensions of the Himalayan region and bearing topographical similarities of the J&K’s Resai district. Discussions are on. And details are being worked out,” a senior Ministry official said.