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15th February 2023 (5 Topics)

India’s lithium discovery & environmental risks

Context

Though the recent discovery of 5.9 million tonnes of inferred resources of lithium in Jammu & Kashmir, by the Geological Survey of India is a game-changer in India’s impending transition to a green economy. However, the development of these reserves needs to be conducted sustainably – both in terms of the environment and equity 

About

Why is the finding a big deal?

  • Usage: The soft, shiny grey metal is an extremely important one in today’s world. It is used, among other things, to build the batteries that electric vehicles cannot do without. Hence the name ‘white gold’.
  • Self-reliance in the LIB [lithium-ion battery]: If India has its own sources of lithium, it would not have to rely too much on imports for its lithium needs, as it currently does.
    • In 2020-21, India imported Rs 173 crore worth of lithium and Rs 8,811 crore worth of lithium ions. India’s lithium needs are also likely to rise, given the push for electric vehicles.
  • Rare: Lithium reserves are also rare.
    • There are 98 million tonnes of lithium globally, said Rishabh Jain, senior programme lead, Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW). Now India has found 5.5% of these resources

As per one estimate, Chile – at 9.2 million tonnes – led the world in lithium reserves, followed by Australia (6.2 million tonnes). So India’s recent find of 5.9 million tonnes of lithium could catapult it into the top three countries in the world with the highest lithium reserves.

Impact on Environment

  • Water-intensive: The process of extracting lithium from its ore is also extremely water-intensive; as per one estimate, it takes approximately 2.2 million litres of water to produce one ton of lithium. And the demand for lithium is only increasing. 
  • Extensive mining: Extracting Li from hard rock mines entails open-pit mining followed by roasting the ore using fossil fuels.
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