The news of potentially significant reserves of lithium, an element needed to manufacture batteries used in electric cars and other renewable energy infrastructure, in Jammu and Kashmir has been welcomed universally.
GS I: Geography
Dimensions of the Article:
- About Lithium
- Status of India’s Lithium Industry
- Management of Lithium Reserves in Other Countries
- Future Considerations for India
- Lithium is a soft, silver-white metal with the symbol Li and atomic number 3.
- It is the lightest of all the metals and the least dense solid element.
- It is highly reactive and flammable, and easily oxidizes in air or water.
- Lithium is a rare element and is mostly found in minerals such as spodumene, lepidolite, and petalite.
- It is also found in brines and clays in certain regions of the world, such as the “Lithium Triangle” in South America, which includes Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile.
Lithium has a range of industrial applications, including:
- Lithium-ion batteries: It is a critical component of rechargeable batteries used in mobile devices, laptops, electric vehicles, and renewable energy storage systems.
- Aerospace industry: Lithium is used in the manufacturing of aircraft parts due to its lightweight and strong structural properties.
- Glass and ceramics: Lithium is used in the production of heat-resistant glass and ceramics, such as ovenware and laboratory equipment.
- Pharmaceuticals: Lithium is used as a mood stabilizer in the treatment of bipolar disorder.
- Lubricants: Lithium is used in greases and lubricants due to its ability to reduce friction and wear.
Status of India’s Lithium Industry:
- India’s electric-vehicle (EV) market was valued at $383.5 million in 2021.
- It is projected to reach $152.21 billion by 2030.
- In 2019-2020, India imported 450 million units of lithium batteries worth $929.26 million (₹6,600 crore).
- The country’s domestic lithium reserves development is crucial due to high stakes involved.
- Scholars argue that the global shift to low-carbon economies, AI expansion, and 5G networks will reshape global and regional geopolitics.
- Access to and control over rare minerals like lithium and cobalt will play a crucial role in these transformative changes.
Ownership of Minerals:
- A 2013 Supreme Court ruling states that landowners have rights to everything beneath their land, down to the earth’s center.
- However, large areas of publicly owned land, including forests, hills, mountains, and revenue wasteland, exist.
- The Union government has the authority to prohibit private actors from mining sensitive minerals, as seen with uranium under the Atomic Energy Act 1962.
- In the current context, lithium is considered as important, if not more so, than uranium.
Management of Lithium Reserves in Other Countries:
- Chile has designated lithium as a strategic resource, exclusively controlled by the state.
- Only two companies, SQM and Albemarle, are licensed for lithium production in the country.
- In 2023, Chile’s president announced a new “National Lithium Strategy,” aiming to regulate environmental impact, distribute revenue more fairly, and promote domestic research through public-private partnerships.
- Bolivia’s constitution grants the state control over exploration, exploitation, and commercialization of natural resources.
- Under former president Evo Morales, Bolivia nationalized the lithium industry, limiting private and foreign participation.
- Despite nationalization, Bolivia has not achieved commercial-scale lithium production.
- Current president Luis Arce intends to collaborate with other Latin American countries to develop a regional “lithium policy” benefiting their economies.
- Mexico’s president nationalized lithium, asserting it belongs to the nation and its people.
- General Approach in Latin and South America:
- Countries in the region are pursuing multi-pronged strategies for lithium development.
- National governments have significant control, but private sector participation varies.
- Indigenous Peoples’ mobilization influences government and corporate accountability.
Future Considerations for India:
- India must effectively manage its lithium sector, considering regions with poverty, environmental degradation, and weak regulation.
- The state’s role in careful and responsible management is crucial for social well-being, environmental safety, and national energy security.
-Source: The Hindu