On Thursday, February 10th, the Indian government announced the discovery of 5.9 million tonnes of lithium in the provinces of Jammu and Kashmir. Lithium is an essential mineral in the production of electric vehicles and solar panels.
While a smaller deposit of 1600 tonnes was discovered in Karnataka two years ago, this was the first major discovery of lithium in India. In the past, the country had to import lithium from countries like Australia, Chile, and Argentina in order to keep its manufacturing sector running.
The discovery of the lithium deposit, as stated by Mines Secretary Vivek Bharadwaj to the press, will aid India in achieving “aatmanirbhar,” a term often used by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to describe the country’s goal of independence.
The announcement of the discovery comes just days after the US Secretary of Commerce announced plans for a strategic partnership between the two countries to boost competition against China, so it is an especially important step in India’s quest to become a global manufacturing leader.
The lithium found in this deposit alone elevates India to the position of having the world’s fifth-largest lithium reserves, passing the United States in the process. The complex process of turning lithium ore into a mineral usable in battery production means that India will continue to rely on imports for the foreseeable future.
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Lithium’s rising value as a battery material has earned it the nickname “white gold.” These batteries are increasingly used in high-tech products like smartphones, laptops, and electric vehicles. The newfound reserves could mean a windfall for Indian manufacturers, as the EV market is projected to grow to more than $800 billion per year by 2030.
It is expected that the discovery will also aid the Indian government in fulfilling a pledge to increase the number of privately owned electric cars by 30% by 2030. The World Bank has stated that in order to achieve global climate goals by 2050, the mining of essential minerals like cobalt, graphite, and lithium must increase by 500%.
However, the extensive environmental impact of the lithium mining and refining process has been heavily criticized. Most of the element’s occurrences are in subterranean reservoirs, which means it frequently taints and even drains vital water supplies in rural areas. In addition, every tonne of lithium results in 15 tonnes of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere due to the production process, which requires heating the ore to a high temperature that can only be reached at an economical level by burning fossil fuels.
Where can you find the largest lithium reserves?
Large salt flats in Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina are home to the majority of the world’s lithium reserves. Even though Bolivia has the world’s largest lithium reserves, most of it is still buried because the country lacks the necessary infrastructure to extract it. This means Bolivia’s lithium production is nowhere near the best in the world.