Now among the top 7 countries with highest reserves of this critical mineral

The Geological Survey of India has, for the first time, discovered substantial lithium inferred resources (G3) of 5.9 million tonnes in the Salal-Haimana area of Reasi District in Jammu & Kashmir. In an effort to build self-sufficiency in lithium-ion battery production, India has been exploring for lithium domestically, and had first found a small quantity of 1,600 tonnes in Karnataka in 2021. This new discovery has placed India among the top 7 countries with highest lithium reserves, ahead of the United States and China. This can provide a major boost to India’s efforts to decarbonise transport and become a global leader in the electric vehicle market.

Why this is good news

Lithium is the heart of the electric mobility industry. Most of the Original Equipment Manufacturers in India, and also the world, use LFP (Lithium, Iron, Phosphate) Chemistry battery cells for EVs because of safety, cost and longer cycle life. With no known reserves of lithium thus far, India is completely dependent on importing this critical mineral. In 2020-21, India imported Rs 8,800 crore worth of lithium batteries and over Rs 170 crore worth of lithium metal. JMK Research estimates that by 2030, India’s annual lithium-ion battery market will reach 116 GWh, with EVs accounting for 90% of the overall market. This discovery, once extractable, will lead to significant growth in the electric vehicle manufacturing sector. It is estimated that only 25% of the world’s lithium reserves are economically viable. Assuming this for India’s discovery as well, and considering the lithium can be produced over a 20 year period, India could potentially produce 200 million two wheelers, 60 million three wheelers or 2 million cars every year for 20 years. In 2022, close to 130,000 tonnes of lithium were mined globally, and Australia was the leader with 61,000 tonnes of lithium mined. So, even if 25% of India’s 5.6 million tonnes reserves are commercially viable, it would amount to more than 1 million tonnes, which is huge.

But there are hurdles to cross

This discovery is just the beginning of a long road ahead. The resources are currently estimated from preliminary exploration (G3) and only after further digging, the resource belt will get a G1 resource measure. There is still a need to estimate how much is extractable, as well as determine the quality of the minerals.

“The recent discovery of Lithium inferred resources is assuring. However the reserves are classified as being in the "inferred category", signifying its low level of confidence. Before going forward, there is a need to do a preliminary finding via actual extraction to check its feasibility and convert this estimated resource to the exploitable category with a high degree of confidence level and explore its chances of augmenting it. If this discovered Lithium reserve can be extracted, these deposits will give a big push towards the implementation of electric vehicle plans in India and lead India in a very strong position via becoming self-reliant (AtmaNirbhar) in developing technology around it.” said Aarti Khosla, Director Climate Trends

Deepak Krishnan, Associate Director, WRI India explains further,the 5.9 million tonnes are what are called inferred resources, i.e. we can estimate quantity and grade based on geological evidence, but whose geological and grade continuity cannot be verified at this stage. There are a few stages of assessment before we can identify the proven reserve of Lithium in the Salal-Haimana deposit.”

Other experts point to the need for developing environmental guidelines for extraction of lithium, especially given the ecologically sensitive region in which it has been discovered. Lithium mining and refinings can have serious environmental implications, especially on water resources. Further, the process of extracting lithium is complex and requires significant investment in technology and infrastructure.