While India is in talks with other countries rich in critical minerals, it is on the verge of finalizing an agreement to acquire five lithium blocks for exploration and development in Argentina, a senior official familiar with the matter said.
The agreement will be signed by Khanij Bidesh Limited (KABIL), a joint venture dedicated to identifying acquiring, developing, processing, and commercializing strategic minerals in foreign countries for supply in India and Catamarca Minera Y Energética Sociedad Del Estado (CAMYEN), an Argentine owned (state-owned) mining and emerging company.
India’s Quest for Critical Minerals
According to a report from a financial newspaper, the central government is also going to invest around Rs 200 crore over the next five years in the exploration and growth of the mines. The talks are in the final stage and a proposal has already been submitted to the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs for approval, a government official aware of the development was quoted as saying.
This is the second attempt following Australia to establish a foreign partnership to source critical minerals, In 2022, India signed an agreement with Australia’s Critical Minerals Facilitation Office (ACMFO) to explore five blocks, two of which are dedicated to lithium and the remaining three to cobalt.
India is also planning to establish an offshore office for KABIL in Catamarca to improve coordination with provincial regulatory authorities. “Engaging in the exploration and extraction of critical minerals in Argentina will need a considerable amount of time and oversight. The establishing of an offshore office of KABIL is a strategic measure to protect your interests in this endeavour another senior official said.
Why only Argentina?
According to the United States Geological Survey’s Lithium Statistics and Information 2023 Report, Argentina has 21 percent of the world’s 98 million tonnes of lithium reserves trailing Bolivia. They are concentrated in salt flats in Catamarca, Salta, and Jujuy provinces which form the Lithium Triangle. India is in talks with Argentina because its salt lake lithium extraction method is less expensive than hard rock mining. This makes it economically appealing and significantly contributes to production.
India’s First Mineral Auction
India’s Efforts in Argentina to secure lithium blocks will accelerate the country’s quest for self-sufficiency in meeting clean emerging demands. On November 29, 2023, India launches its first auction for critical minerals to drive the supply chain.
Two lithium blocks in Jammu and Kashmir and Chattisgarh have been put up for auction. As per government estimates, the Reasi district has 5.9 million tonnes of lithium reserve. The mineral quantity from Chattisgarh is not specified in the auction documents.
India’s Lithium Imports
Currently, the country meets its lithium demands entirely through imports. According to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry Data, India’s lithium imports come from Hong Kong and China. KABIL is engaged in active discussions with several critical minerals including Bolivia and Chile in addition to Argentina and Australia. These explorations and development agreements for five lithium blocks will help India achieve its goals of becoming a manufacturing hub for electric vehicles by 2070.
Significance of Lithium
Lithium is used in a wide array of applications, most notably in the production of lithium-ion batteries. These batteries are used to power a wide variety of devices including smartphones, laptop computers, electric vehicles, and renewable sources such as solar and wind power. In addition, lithium is used in medical treatments, ceramics, and components in aerospace technology.