India has stepped up its exploration for critical and strategic minerals, including lithium, rare earth elements, and vanadium, among others.
Minerals such as antimony, cobalt, gallium, graphite, lithium, nickel, niobium, and strontium, among others, are critical for green technologies, high-tech equipment, aviation, and national defence manufacturing needs.
India has a high import dependence for many of these minerals.
As per the Geographical Survey of India’s (GSI) field season 2023-24 report, lithium exploration projects are underway in at least three states, including Korba district in Chhattisgarh; South Garo Hills and East Garo Hills in Meghalaya; and Jammu, Ramban, Resai, Rajoury and Udhampur in Jammu and Kashmir. These explorations are mostly at the G4 stages — namely reconnaissance surveys to narrow down the area for further studies.
Lithium, a non-ferrous alkali mineral, is in demand for the lithium-ion batteries needed to run electric vehicles, making it vital to India’s EV transition in the public and private transportation space. India’s only lithium find has been in Resai, to the tune of 5.9 million tonnes (mt).
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Incidentally, the Mineral Exploration and Consultation Ltd (formerly Mineral Exploration and Consultancy Ltd) — a public sector enterprise under the Union Ministry of Mines — is carrying out exploration for lithium and potassium (under the National Mineral Exploration Trust) at the Merak block in the Union Territory of Leh. Exploration begun in 2021-22 are at G4 stage, according to a response tabled in Parliament.
Rare earth element find
Over 50 explorations are on for rare earth elements (REE). This, incidentally, is one of GSI’s biggest exploration activities in the segment in recent times.
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REEs are used in industrial applications including electronics, clean energy, aerospace, automotive and defence. Manufacture of permanent magnets is the single largest and most important end-use for REEs, accounting for 43 per cent of demand in 2021.
There are 17 REEs — 15 lanthanides (lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium; neodymium, promethium; samarium, europium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, thulium, ytterbium and lutetium), scandium, and yttrium. The lanthanide elements are divided into two groups — light and heavy.
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The explorations are spread across states like Chhattisgarh (Raigarh), Maharashtra (Nagpur, Chandrapur, and Sindhudurg), Bihar, Jharkhand (Giridh, Simdega, and Koderna), Odisha (Nayagarh, Ganjam, and Angul), West Bengal (Purulia), Arunachal Pradesh (Kurung Kumey), Assam (West Karbi Anglong), Meghalaya (South West Khasi Hills and Ri-Bhoi), Uttar Pradesh (Lalitpur and Sonbhadra), Andhra Pradesh (Anantapur, East Godavari, Alluri Sitharama Raju, Chittoor, Annamayya, Nellore, and Prakasam), Kerala (Kottayam, Idukki, Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, and Wayanad), Telangana (Bhadradri and Jayashankar), Tamil Nadu (Kanyakumari), Karnataka (Chamarajanagar), Gujarat (Chhota Udepur, Aravalli, Mehsana, and Banaskantha), and Rajasthan (Alwar, Udaipur, Sirohi, and Barmer), among others.
Apart from G4, explorations for REEs are also in the G3 stage (preliminary exploration) in Rajasthan and Gujarat (Bhamre Chinamuwada, Gulab Khan Kampa, and Koliyathar Gunatha blocks).
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G2 or general exploration is underway for the eastern extension of the central block of Ambadunagar in Gujarat.
Since 2015, GSI has augmented REE resources by 114 mt, according to a report presented by Union Minister for Mines Pralhad Joshi in Parliament.
Other critical minerals
Exploration for other minerals like vanadium — used in nuclear reactors, spacecraft and aircraft — is on at the G4 stage in Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh and Kerala.
Vanadium, an elemental metal, is rarely found in nature, but once isolated artificially, the formation of an oxide layer stabilises the free metal against further oxidation.
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In 2022-23, there were at least seven explorations for vanadium in Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and other places.
Niobium — used in jet engines and rockets, girders and beams — explorations have restarted in West Bengal (Purulia) and Rajasthan (Jhunjhunu and Sikar) after a gap of a year.