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Geography

Domestic Exploration of Lithium

  • 11 Jan 2021
  • 5 min read

Why in News

Recent surveys by the Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research (AMD) have shown the presence of lithium resources in Mandya district, Karnataka.

  • AMD is the oldest unit of the Department of Atomic Energy.

Key Points

  • About Lithium:
    • Properties:
      • It is a chemical element with the symbol Li.
      • It is a soft, silvery-white metal.
      • Under standard conditions, it is the lightest metal and the lightest solid element.
      • It is highly reactive and flammable, and must be stored in mineral oil.
      • It is an alkali metal and a rare metal.
        • The alkali metals consist of the chemical elements lithium, sodium, potassium, rubidium, caesium, and francium. Together with hydrogen they constitute group 1, which lies in the s-block of the periodic table.
        • Rare Metals (RM) include Niobium (Nb), Tantalum (Ta), Lithium (Li), Beryllium (Be), Cesium (Cs) etc. and Rare Earths (RE) include Lanthanum (La) to Lutetium (Lu) besides Scandium (Sc) and Yttrium (Y).
          • These metals are strategic in nature with wide application in the nuclear and other high tech industries such as electronics, telecommunication, information technology, space, defense etc.
    • Uses:
      • Lithium metal is used to make useful alloys.
        • For example, with lead to make ‘white metal’ bearings for motor engines, with aluminium to make aircraft parts, and with magnesium to make armour plates.
      • In Thermonuclear reactions.
      • To make electrochemical cells. Lithium is an important component in Electric Vehicles, Laptops etc.
  • Lithium Resources in Karnataka:
    • The survey shows presence of 1,600 tonnes of lithium resources in the igneous rocks of the Marlagalla-Allapatna region of Karnataka’s Mandya district.
  • Benefits of Domestic Exploration:
    • Reducing Import Bill:
      • 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 USD 3.3 billion.
    • Reducing Overdependence on China:
      • China is a major source of lithium-ion energy storage products being imported into the country.
  • Issues Associated with Domestic Exploration:
    • The new find is categorised as “inferred”.
      • The ‘inferred’ mineral resource is the part of a resource for which quantity, grade and mineral content are estimated only with a low level of confidence based on information gathered from locations such as outcrops, trenches, pits, workings, and drill holes that may be of limited or uncertain quality, and also of lower reliability.
    • The lithium find is comparatively small, considering the size of the proven reserves in Bolivia, Argentina, Australia, and China respectively.
    • India is seen as a late mover in attempts to enter the lithium value chain, coming at a time when Electric Vehicles are predicted to be a sector ripe for disruption.
      • 2021 is likely to be a turning point for battery technology with several potential improvements to the li-ion technology, and alternatives to this tried-and-tested formulation in advanced stages of commercialisation.
  • Extraction Method:
    • Lithium can be extracted in different ways, depending on the type of the deposit .
      • Solar evaporation of large brine pools.
        • A brine pool is a volume of brine collected in a seafloor depression.
        • For example: Brines of Sambhar and Pachpadra in Rajasthan.
      • Hard-rock extraction of the ore (a metal-bearing mineral).
        • For example: rock mining at Mandya.
  • Other Potential Sites:
    • The major mica belts in Rajasthan, Bihar, and Andhra Pradesh.
    • Pegmatite (igneous rocks) belts in Odisha and Chhattisgarh.
    • Brines of Sambhar and Pachpadra in Rajasthan, and Rann of Kachchh in Gujarat.
  • Other Government Initiative:
    • India, through a newly state-owned company Khanij Bidesh India Ltd, had signed an agreement with an Argentinian firm to jointly prospect lithium in Argentina that has the third largest reserves of the metal in the world.
      • The company has a specific mandate to acquire strategic mineral assets such as lithium and cobalt abroad.

Source:IE

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