The big lithium find: Risks and Rewards

Source: The post is based on the article “The big lithium find: Risks and Rewards published in Livemint on 14th February 2023.

What is the News?

The discovery of 5.9 million tonnes of lithium in Jammu & Kashmir is a major boost for India’s electrification plans but mining is a high-risk, high-reward game in the ecologically sensitive Himalayas.

What has been found in Jammu & Kashmir?

The Government of India has said that it has found 5.9 million tonnes of lithium reserves in the Reasi district of Jammu & Kashmir. This may be the seventh largest deposit of the rare element, accounting for roughly 5.7% of all the reserves in the world. 

What is the importance of Lithium?

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Note: Currently, India does not have its own lithium resources and like crude oil, it is dependent on imports. In 2022, India imported lithium and lithium ion worth almost ₹14,000 crore. The demand is likely to explode in the future.

Will this mitigate China’s lithium dominance?

China does not have too much lithium reserve of its own, but as the largest market for electric vehicles, it controls both the supply and demand side of the lithium industry.

It controls over half the global lithium processing and almost 75% of cell components and battery cell production in the world. 

In effect, the proliferation of EVs could mean India becoming dependent on China, just like it is reliant on the Middle East for crude oil today. 

However, J&K’s reserves provide a major opening for India to be self-reliant.

What are the pitfalls of lithium mining?

Just like any mining activity, there are adverse impacts on the environment, including water, soil and air pollution. 

Extracting lithium from its ore is highly water-intensive, taking about 2.2 million litres of water for one tonne of lithium. 

The Himalayas are a highly fragile and eco-sensitive region and as the recent Joshimath subsidence shows, it is vulnerable to long-term adverse consequences of unplanned development works. Hence, mining in the region can attract opposition from environmentalists.

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