Rakesh Giri Goswami – For laymen, it is a sort of metal; for students of science, this is an element placed in the 1st group along with Sodium and potassium. For those involved in mineral exploration work, it is a rare but useful metal. This has now become a hot topic of discussion about this element – what, when, and how it is used. Changes in the transportation scenario worldwide have made this metal very relevant. It all started about ten years ago when it was thought that due to depleting natural fuel, the time had come to shift to the use of all types of electric vehicles. A couple of years back, many countries, including India, started manufacturing such vehicles. Now, all such vehicles are operated with the help of good quality batteries, and here Lithium comes into the picture. All these vehicles use Lithium-based batteries. As a result, the demand for Li-based batteries has increased manifold. The search for areas with deposits of this metal or its minerals began. It was concluded that only four countries have such deposits: Chile, China, Australia, and Bolivia, and they also control the market. Many countries, including India, import this metal. Last year, our country imported lithium and Li-bearing minerals. There is also a growing concern that if these countries stop Lithium supplies, the entire vehicle industry shall halt. So, all major players started searching for this in their own country or nearby areas. Lithium is mostly used in rechargeable mobile phones, laptops, digital cameras, and electric vehicles. It is also used in non-rechargeable batteries for heart pacemakers, toys, clocks, heat-resistant glass, and ceramics.
In simple words, this metal is found in many types of rocks as minerals; important Li-bearing minerals are Lepidolite and Spodumene. Of course, it was known that such minerals are found in India in small quantities in Mica belts and other areas, but not enough to sustain any industry. After the year 2014, the Indian government, along with other state governments, launched a project to look for rare earth and Lithium. The results are encouraging; about two weeks ago, news came that the GSI (Geological Survey of India) has discovered new Lithium deposits in Jammu and Kashmir state. This discovery is located near Salal village in the Reasi district of J&K. Salal can be seen on the map lying north of Vaishno Devi temple. According to government agencies, the preliminary survey has indicated that the total figure of the deposit is placed at 5.9 million tonnes. This discovery has been well-received by industries and people of that area because mining and processing of minerals shall take place in the Salal area. This shall generate revenue for the state and also provide employment to local people. Apart from this, the search for this metal is also ongoing in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal, Chattisgarh, and Jharkhand. In 2021, it was also announced by AMD (Atomic Mineral Division) of the Indian government that they have discovered 1600 tonnes of Li-bearing rocks in Karnataka. Indian discoveries have one important positive point – all deposits in the world have a 220ppm content, while in our country, the Kashmir deposit has 500ppm.
In Chile, in South America, Lithium is found in salt lakes in the desert of that country. Government agencies also tried to find Li in salt lakes of Rajasthan, but the results are not as good as the content is 20-30 ppm. The government of India has already started the process to extract Li in the Salal area, and one condition being put is that any company coming there shall have to install the extraction plant in Salal only. This shall provide added employment opportunities.
The mining in Kashmir shall provide ample supply and shall reduce our dependence on other countries. The enclosed graphic shows that we are now third in resource position after Chile and China. As a layman, I am happy about the Li discovery. But as a geologist, I wish to add that the current reserve position of 5.9 million tonnes is inferred category, and further detailed surveys are required to change these reserves into the proved deposit category. The detailed survey may reduce the current figure by 15 to 20%.