Five Major Challenges India Can Face in Lithium Mining

Highlights :

  • The Geological Survey of India (GSI) recently inferred Lithium reserves in Rajasthan.
Five Major Challenges India Can Face in Lithium Mining

In the latest development, the Geological Survey of India (GSI) indicated the presence of a large deposit of Lithium in the Degana region of Rajasthan’s Nagaur district. It is the second largest critical mineral discovery after the GSI discovered another significant source in the Reasi district of Jammu and Kashmir in February this year. While it is too early in both cases to predict anything, it has been interesting to see many analysts and so called experts jump the gun to predict an era of lithium independence for the country. The reality unfortunately, is a lot more complicated. 

Lithium Mining

Easier Said Than Done

It is said that the reserves found in Rajasthan could cater to India’s 80 percent of Lithium requirements. India currently imports most of its Lithium from countries like China and others as the critical mineral is not available in the country. Even as the value of these imports is close to a billion dollars currently, the bigger issue is the dependence on a third country, much like oil. As a lithium recycling firm’s CEO put it memorably, without control over lithium supplies, our EV transition is simply shifting dependence from Saudi Arabia to China. 

Lithium is a critical element used in Lithium-ion batteries which power most electric vehicles (EVs) and other electronic gadgets today. However, the import dependency on the critical mineral  which can account for as much as 25-35% of an auto’s cost, means manufacturers in India will have limited flexibility to price their products competitively in global markets. Thus, the reason why the findings in Rajasthan and Kashmir have raised so much interest and hope. 

However, extraction of Lithium from such reserves often involved years of inspection by GSI, followed by other unique post-extraction challenges for countries like India. Following are some of the significant challenges that can come before using these reserves for commercial purposes-

1. Inferred resources don’t guarantee extraction possibility 

The GSI conducts excavation and sample analysis at different levels. Under the United National Framework Classification for mineral reserves of 2009, which the GSI adopts, it does the excavation of resources in four stages- G4 (reconnaissance), G3 (prospecting), G2 (general exploration), and G1 stage (detailed exploration). 

During the G4 stage, GSI gets only hints about the possibility of any reserves, and G3 indicates the inferred resources with low confidence. Only after the G1 level of work does the team know about the actual size of the minerals and also get confidence on whether they could be extracted. In Jammu and Kashmir, Lithium deposits were found as inferred resources in the G3 stage. However, details of the stage in Rajasthan are yet to be revealed. 

2. Longer periods in different phases

Even in the different stages of GSI, moving from one stage to another take several years. So the discovery of any mineral only guarantees extraction possibility in a longer time period. So if the Rajasthan reserves were found in the G4 stage, it could take years to extract it commercially, if practically possible.  

3. Extraction hurdles and technologies 

Another main hurdle involved is the available technology and cost involved in its extraction. Lithium is either found in rocks (like in Reasi) mixed with bauxite. In other cases, it is found in brine (Salty water). So the extraction method, technology, and cost depend on how we plan to extract it. As India has yet to see such industries that are into the extraction of Lithium, there are myriad challenges of extraction technologies and industries and agencies with such experience. 

4. 35 regions in India under Lithium exploration

According to recent data shared by the Indian government, the GSI is already exploring Lithium reserves in around 35 sites in India in states like Jammu and Kashmir, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, and others in the last five years. Several of them are in the G4 stage. So there are possibilities from other such regions too. However, the potential availability of these resources, possibility of its ease in extraction, quantum of actual reserves are found only after  G1 explorations. It is also pertinent to note that post extraction, the readiness of the government and agencies would also be key to the growth of the sector. 

5. The processing challenge

Another challenge is the need for more experience in industries especially meant to process, clean, and purify the extracted Lithium. Countries like China have several such industries and players with expertise in processing raw Lithium extracts to make it fit for use in batteries. However, India still needs to gain experience in this. Several countries like Chile have Lithium deposits but have been unable to create enough infrastructure to process it, which later was mastered by countries like China. So making the proper infrastructure is also essential to develop a local manufacturing hub using Lithium. 


Of course, beyond all these is the fact that environmental concerns themselves could severely hamper exploitation of Lithium reserves. A water intensive process , it could be the fragile ecology of Kashmir, or the shortage of water in Rajasthan that becomes the biggest hurdle, if and when we reach a state where reserves are proven to be exploitable. All in all, it is safe to say that to expect any significant impact of these ‘discoveries’ in the next 5 years would be a never before achievement by mining standards.

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