New Delhi: In a development that could strengthen India’s self-reliance in the area, the government said on Thursday 5.9 million tonnes of lithium reserves have been found in Jammu and Kashmir. According to the Ministry of Mines, the Geological Survey of India for the first-time established lithium inferred resources (G3) of 5.9 million tonnes in the Salal-Haimana area of the Reasi district of Jammu and Kashmir.
It also said 51 mineral blocks including those of lithium and gold, were handed over to the respective state governments. “Out of these 51 mineral blocks, 5 blocks pertain to gold and other blocks pertain to commodities like potash, molybdenum, base metals etc. spread across 11 states of Jammu and Kashmir (UT), Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, and Telangana,” the ministry added.
India needs lithium for the manufacturing sector, and the country has had to depend on Argentina, Australia and Chile for any imports until now. Prior to this, a small deposit of around 1,600 tonnes of lithium was discovered in Karnataka’s Marlagalla-Allapatna region in Mandya district in 2021. The J&K deposit is the first major discovery of lithium in India, and the finding is crucial from certain perspectives. Here is a look into why this is important for India.
What Is Lithium?
For the uninitiated, lithium is the third element in the periodic table after hydrogen and helium. It is also the lightest metal on Earth. Lithium is non-ferrous, toxic and extremely reactive with water. It is so soft that it can be cut with a kitchen knife and has a low density, which makes it float on water. Lithium is also termed a ‘cosmic’ metal as it is among the only three elements created at the beginning of our universe, according to NASA.
A study funded by the American space agency revealed that the big bang created a small amount of lithium when the universe was formed initially, but “the majority of lithium gets manufactured in the nuclear reactions that power the nova explosions”, an article on the NASA website explains. According to the study, the nova explosions distributed the mineral throughout the galaxy. Most of the lithium we use in electronics and medicine today is delivered by the nova explosions.
As for its discovery on Earth, it took some time to isolate lithium. A Brazilian naturalist and statesman, Jozé Bonifácio de Andralda-e-Silva discovered the mineral petalite on the Swedish isle Utö in the 1790s, (RSC). Swedish chemist Johan August Arfwedson discovered this petalite in 1817, but wasn’t able to entirely isolate the metal, though he did isolate one of its salts.
The mineral is white to gray in colour, but turns bright crimson if thrown into fire. The name ‘lithium’ is derived from “lithos,” the Greek for “stone”. It was in 1855 that lithium was isolated for the first time, by British chemist Augustus Matthiessen and German chemist Robert Bunsen. They ran a current through lithium chloride to separate the element, according to LiveScience.
What Is Lithium Used For?
The precious metal, which is also being referred to as ‘new oil’, is one of the most sought-after minerals in the world due to its effective usage in batteries. Not only this, but the element is also used in medicines to treat bipolar disorders. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, lithium salts were the first drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat mania and depression.
Lithium carbonate is the compound most often sold as a pharmaceutical these days. Interestingly, no one knows exactly how lithium works to stabilise the mood of a person. But the area where lithium plays a definite role is in the batteries. It is one of the key components in the batteries used in mobile, laptops and electric vehicles as it charges faster and lasts longer.
Lithium batteries have a higher power density for more battery life in a lighter package. More amount of lithium can help in the manufacturing of more and better EVs that can reduce carbon emissions and positively help the environment.
The importance of lithium batteries can be understood from the fact that Stanley Whittingham, John Goodenough, and Akira Yoshino were awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the development of lithium-ion batteries. They were recognised for the work they have been doing since 1985.
The steady increase in the demand for lithium due to its properties to amplify the clean energy prospect of the world has been highlighted on various global stages. According to the World Economic Forum, there could be a shortage of lithium as soon as 2025. With its usage in various forms including solar panels and long life, the metal will certainly drive the future’s green mobility agenda.
What Does Lithium Finding In J&K Mean For India?
Commonly referred to as ‘white gold’, lithium is not only key to the restoration of the depleting environment but it holds the capacity to develop companies and countries with its value. The annual electric vehicles market size is predicted to reach more than $800 billion by 2030.
Hence, the newfound reserves likely mean a big economic boost for India. Notably, Australia, Chile, Argentina and China are the world’s largest producers and exporters of lithium, driving the market of essential EV material. India can now join the race with the discovery of 5.9 million tonnes of lithium reserves in Jammu and Kashmir, the first such in the country.
The small deposit discovered in Karnataka two years ago was not enough for proper usage and business. The J&K finding will enhance India’s ‘Make In India’ and self-reliance goals, as stressed by Mines Secretary Vivek Bharadwaj who told the media that the lithium deposit would help India become “aatmanirbhar”.
It could also help the country in its efforts towards becoming a global leader in manufacturing. The discovery also comes at a time the US announced plans for a strategic partnership between with India to boost competition against China. It is also likely to boost India’s aim to cut carbon emission towards net zero by 2070. Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced India’s goal to cut India’s emissions towards net-zero by 2070 during the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow in 2021.
The recent discovery makes India the fifth country with the largest lithium reserves in the world, just above the United States of America. However, processing lithium from the mineral ore would take some time and for a few years, India will have to continue to depend on imports.