Reserves of lithium, a rare metal critical to build batteries for electric vehicles, have been discovered in Mandya, 100 km from Bengaluru – a find that should boost local manufacturing of EV batteries.
Researchers at the Atomic Minerals Directorate, a unit of India’s Atomic Energy Commission, have estimated lithium reserves of 14,100 tonnes in a small patch of land surveyed in the Southern Karnataka district, according to a paper to be published in the forthcoming issue of journal Current Science.
“The present data provides a total estimation of available Li2O as about 30,300 tonnes over an area of 0.5 km x 5 km, which works out to about 14,100 tonnes of lithium metal,” said N Munichandraiah, Emeritus Professor at the Indian Institute of Science and an expert on battery technologies.
But, to put this in perspective, the lithium find is small compared to many major producers. As the professor puts it: “If one compares with 8.6 million tonnes in Chile, 2.8 million tonnes in Australia, 1.7 million tonnes in Argentina or 60,000 tonnes in Portugal, 14,100 tonnes is not that large.”
Lead author of the paper, PV Thirupathi, did not respond to mails seeking comment.
India currently imports all its lithium needs.
‘Not Enough Exploration Effort’
Its imports of lithium batteries tripled to $1.2 billion in FY19 from $384 million in FY17. In the eight months to November 2019, lithium battery imports stood at $929 million, according to data shared by science & technology minister Harsh Vardhan in Parliament on February 2.
Experts say while India requires lithium for its energy needs, there has been no comprehensive effort to map local reserves of lithium so far.
“We have not explored so far whether we have adequate reserves of lithium because of concerns of radioactivity,” says Dr Rahul Walawalkar, president of India Energy Storage Alliance, a grouping that looks at battery technologies. “We don’t know the potential”.
So far, in the absence of local mines for lithium, India has set up Khanij Bidesh India to source and acquire mines in Argentina, Bolivia and Chile.