For the first time, India has found massive lithium deposits in the northern territory of Jammu and Kashmir, according to an official announcement.
The Geological Survey of India (GSI) has found lithium reserves of around 5.9 million tons (MT) in the Reasi district of Jammu and Kashmir, the Secretary of the Mines Ministry, Vivek Bharadwaj, said earlier this month.
“GSI has, for the first time, established lithium inferred resources (G3) of 5.9 million tons in the Salal-Haimana area of Reasi district of Jammu and Kashmir. GSI should carry forward this momentum and continue the field programmes with the same vigor,” Bharadwaj said, addressing the 62nd meeting of the Central Geological Programming Board.
Lithium is a key material that was previously unavailable in India, leaving the country entirely reliant on imports. The significance of the discovery can be gauged by the fact that at current lithium prices the find is valued at INR 34 trillion ($41 billion). Lithium is used mainly in the battery industry, which is growing exponentially in India, given the government thrust for electric vehicles (EV) development.
Lithium is also used in solar panels and for other battery storage systems such as in the electricity sector. In May 2021, the Indian government approved the Production Linked Incentive (PLI) Scheme for manufacturing of Advanced Chemistry Cells (ACC) in the country. The total outlay for the scheme is INR 18,100 crore (over $21 billion) for a period of five years.
The Mines Secretary also said that the lithium found in Jammu and Kashmir is of high quality, with a grade of 500 parts per million (ppm), compared to the normal grade of 200 ppm. The assessment of the mineral concession is analysed using the United Nations Framework Classification (UNFC), which is a three-dimensional system considering geological, feasibility, and economic factors. The geological axis has four stages: Reconnaissance (G4), Prospecting (G3), General Exploration (G2) and Detailed Exploration (G1).
The recent lithium discovery is classified as G3, and it will now be followed by G2 and G1 studies before the final extraction of the metal. Further exploration and a detailed mapping, including geochemical and geophysical surveys and drilling, are required to arrive at a G1 estimate. Simultaneously, an economic analysis will also be carried out to determine economically viable extractable mineral content.
In India, mineral extraction is regulated by law, while lithium-bearing minerals are classified as atomic minerals and regulated by the Atomic Mineral Concession Rules, 2016. The licensing process for extraction includes, sequentially, a Reconnaissance permit, Prospecting License, and a Mining Lease.
It may take years for the actual extraction of lithium from the latest G3 find in India. With 5.9 million tons (MT) of resources, India will globally rank sixth behind Bolivia (21 MT), Argentina (20 MT), Chile (11 MT), Australia (8 MT), and China (7 MT). Worldwide resources are estimated at 98 MT, with actual reserves at 26 MT. Only about 130,000 tons of lithium was produced in 2022.