India is in the final stages of securing lithium from Argentina. In all likelihood, it would be collaborating with a Catamarca-based state mining company, CAMYEN, for supplies from the Latin American nation, sources aware of the development said. However, it could take another least six months before some finalisation on the arrangement happens.

The move is a part of India’s first steps towards self-reliance in the supply of critical minerals while reducing import bills.

According to Mines Ministry officials, some “procedural requirements” still need to be carried out, while Cabinet approval would also be required. However, there are no immediate objections from the Ministry’s side.

Previously, CAMYEN, via the Indian Embassy in Buenos Aires, provided details about two lithium projects in La Aguada and El Indio in Catamarca, Argentina.

Officials said all five blocks are under consideration in Argentina,

Lithium, a white alkaline metal, is the cornerstone of India’s rising green energy transition requirements. The mineral, used in energy storage solutions, finds usage across industries like electric vehicles (EVs), and mobile phones, among others.

Lithium Demand

Most of India’s lithium requirements are met through imports, primarily from China, with the bill running into Rs 24,000 crore annually. The country is among the top three importers globally, along with the USA and Vietnam.

Trade import-export data intelligence site Volza pegs India’s lithium imports to 286,651 shipments till October 31, 2023, primarily across three categories: lithium ion, lithium products and others.

During an industry event earlier this year, Argentina Ambassador Hugo Javier Gobbi said that India should source lithium directly from the Lat-Am nation, rather than from China.

In India, the increased demand for EVs will lead to a lithium-ion battery demand escalation of 250 GWh in the coming decade (FY33). The report by Axis Capital mentioned at 75 average utilization; this will boost a capacity addition of approximately 330 GWh by FY33.

So far, India has declared reserves in one lithium block of 5.9 million tonnes in the Reasi area of Jammu and Kashmir and is expecting commercial availability of the mineral in another Katghora in Chhattisgarh. Both these blocks were put up for auctions that began on November 29 .

Securing Supplies

Sources said, India’s KABIL (Khanij Bidesh India Ltd) – a joint venture between NALCO, Hindustan Copper, and Mineral Exploration Corporation – has been working with companies in Argentina to secure supplies, and also carry out prospecting in two areas (of the LatAm nation) with plans to set-up new projects for extraction of lithium.

The company reportedly signed three separate memoranda of understanding (MoUs) between July and September 2022 with three different Argentina-based companies – CAMYEN, Jujuy Energy and Mining State Company, and another called YPF. The MoUs covered searches for lithium and other minerals, too.

“Of these, we are in the process of finalising the supplies through CAMYEN. We would need to go ahead with the technicalities like due dilligence, pre-feasibility studies, prospecting activities and then exploration,” said the official.

“Right now there are some more procedures that need to be followed, which include Cabinet approval here and also deciding on the nature of the partnership, which are under discussion. In another six months, at the most, we should ideally be able to get a closure here,” the official added.

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

Various studies suggest that in 2030, the global demand for lithium is expected to surpass 2.4 million tonnes of lithium carbonate equivalent, doubling the demand forecast for 2025. Increases in battery demand for electric vehicles will strongly drive lithium consumption in the next decade, with demand expected to reach 3.8 million tons by 2035.