India finds a small deposits of lithium in Karnataka

India finds a small deposits of lithium in Karnataka

News: Preliminary surveys by the Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research(AMD) are learnt to have shown the presence of 1,600 tonnes of lithium resources in the igneous rocks of the Margalla-Allapatna region of Karnataka’s Mandya district.

Facts:

  • Lithium: It is a chemical element with the symbol Li and atomic number 3. It is a soft, silvery-white alkali metal.
  • Characteristics: Under standard conditions, Lithium is the lightest metal and the lightest solid element. Like all alkali metals, lithium is highly reactive and flammable. It never occurs freely in nature due to its high reactivity.
  • Extraction of Lithium: Lithium can be extracted in different ways, depending on the type of the deposit – it is generally done either through solar evaporation of large brine pools or by hard-rock extraction of the ore.
  • Uses of Lithium:
    • Lithium and its compounds have several industrial applications, including heat-resistant glass and ceramics, flux additives for iron, steel and aluminum production, lithium batteries and lithium-ion batteries.
    • Lithium is also present in biological systems in trace amounts; its functions are uncertain.
    • Lithium salts have proven to be useful as a mood-stabilizing drug in the treatment of bipolar disorder in humans.
  • Largest Producers of Lithium: In 2019, the largest producer of the lithium was Australia followed by Chile and China.

Lithium in India:

  • India currently imports all its lithium needs. Over 165 crore lithium batteries are estimated to have been imported into India between 2016-17 and 2019-20 at an estimated import bill of upwards of $3.3 billion.
  • Lithium Exploration in India:
    • India is currently going for the domestic exploration push which also includes exploratory work to extract lithium from the brine pools of Rajasthan and Gujarat and the mica belts of Odisha and Chhattisgarh.
    • The Margalla-Allapatna area along the Nagamangala Schist Belt, which exposes mineralised complex pegmatites (igneous rocks) is seen as among the most promising geological domains for potential exploration for lithium and other rare metals.
    • There is also some potential for recovering lithium from the brines of Sambhar and Pachpadra in Rajasthan and Rann of Kachchh in Gujarat.
    • The major mica belts in Rajasthan, Bihar, and Andhra Pradesh, and the pegmatite belts in Odisha and Chhattisgarh apart from Karnataka are the other potential geological domains.
  • Challenges:
    • Firstly, the newly found lithium in India in Margalla-Allapatna is categorised as “inferred”, one of the three categories into which mineral resources are subdivided in order of increasing geological confidence.
    • Secondly, the lithium find is comparatively small, considering the size of the proven reserves in Bolivia (21 million tonnes), Argentina (17 million tonnes), Australia (6.3 million tonnes), and China (4.5 million tonnes).
    • Thirdly, India is also seen as a late mover in attempts to enter the lithium value chain, coming at a time when Electric Vehicles(EVs) are predicted to be a sector ripe for disruption.
  • Initiatives taken by India: In 2020, Khanij Bidesh India Ltd had signed an agreement with an Argentinian firm to jointly prospect lithium in the South American country that has the third largest reserves of the metal in the world.
    • Khanij Bidesh India Ltd: It was incorporated in 2019 by three state-owned companies, NALCO, Hindustan Copper, and Mineral Exploration Ltd, with the specific mandate to acquire strategic mineral assets such as lithium and cobalt abroad.The company is learnt to be also exploring options in Chile and Bolivia.

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