India is in talks with Chile and Bolivia for tapping into lithium mining and sourcing of the mineral that remains the cornerstone for the country’s switch to green mobility.

While a “decision is pending” on acquisition of blocks in Argentina, for Chile the Mines Ministry is on-course to sign non-disclosure agreements (with the government there), identify mines and blocks, explore prospecting opportunities, among other factors.

In Bolivia, the Ministry is looking at downstream tie-ups, wherein it will facilitate EV battery making and processing set-ups by Indian companies who will invest in the South American nation; officials aware of the ongoing developments told businessline.

The white metal, a key component for batteries used to power electric vehicles, has seen its price skyrocket over recent years as car makers rushed to shift their production away from combustion engine vehicles.

India 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 covered electric accumulators, including separators.

In FY22, Indian imports for lithium-ion were ₹13,673.15 crore.

Chile-Bolivia-Argentina together forms the world’s lithium trinity or triangle and account for nearly half of the global resource base for the white metal.

Why Bolivia

In fact, Bolivia had earlier this year upgraded its lithium resource base to 23 million tonnes (mt).

The new figure, reached after more than 66 wells were explored across the Coipasa and Pastos Grandes salt flats, compares with a previous estimate of 21 mt of the South Amercian nation.

Bolivia has previously turned to investments from Russian and Chinese firms to develop its huge but largely untapped lithium resources. In the first half of this year, it signed three lithium deals with two Chinese and one Russian firm pledging to invest a total of $2.8 billion to industrialise Bolivia’s resources.

“Local laws there allow for investments in downstream sector or processing of lithium rather than mining. Mining is restricted to local companies there. And it is this downstream collaboration which the government here wants to tap, and facilitate Indian firms to invest there,” said an official aware of the discussions.

Other LAT-AM nations

The Mines Ministry is already in discussions with Argentina for acquisition or investment in five-odd lithium blocks there. However, the decision on it is current pending sources said, with discussions are in the final stages.

Argentina is said to have 20 mt of reserves as per latest reports.

“In case of Chile, there is an exchange of information being carried out and we are looking to sign the non-disclosure pacts soon,” the official said, adding that international decisions take time to materialise.

Chile’s lithium reserve estimate is close to 11 mt.