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The Advantages and Risks of Our Big Lithium Discovery

Context

The government recently announced that lithium reserves totaling 5.9 million tonnes had been discovered in Jammu and Kashmir’s Reasi district.

Relevance:

GS Paper-3: Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life

Mains Question

What makes lithium metal so crucial to India? What are the dangers of mining lithium? (250 Words)


Highlights

  • The discovery of lithium in Jammu and Kashmir is a significant boost for India’s electrification plans, but mining in the ecologically fragile Himalayas is a high-risk, high-reward endeavour.
  • With approximately 5.7% of the world’s reserves, this deposit of the rare element may rank seventh in size.
  • The International Energy Agency claims that the price of lithium increased more than seven-fold between the beginning of 2021 and May 2022. They are also said to be of a higher grade—550 parts per million (ppm) compared to the average 220 ppm—making it highly profitable.
  • An important factor to consider would be the G3 category of lithium deposits as the EV industry celebrates the recent discovery.

What does G3 stand for?

  • According to the United Nations Framework Classification for Fossil Fuels, a G3 category or inferred resources is defined as quantities associated with a known deposit that can be estimated with a low level of confidence.
  • By “inferred resources,” we mean a portion of a mineral resource whose quantity, grade, or quantity can be estimated based on geological evidence, sparse sampling, and a reasonably ascribed, but unconfirmed, continuity of geology and grade.
  • “The best estimate scenario is equivalent to the combination of the high confidence and moderate confidence estimates (G1+G2), whereas a low estimate scenario is directly equivalent to a high confidence estimate (i.e. G1).
  • Quantities can be calculated either deterministically or probabilistically.

Lithium Metal

  • With three protons and the element symbol Li, lithium is the third element in the periodic table. The atomic mass of it is 6.941.
    • Two stable isotopes of lithium, lithium-6 and lithium-7, combine to form natural lithium.
  • Lithium is the lightest metal, making up more than 92% of the element’s natural abundance. Of all the metals, lithium has the lowest density.
    • The metal is stored under oil or enclosed in an inert atmosphere because it reacts with both air and water. It is challenging to put out a lithium fire because of the reaction with oxygen.
  • Lithium burns brightly red when it is ignited.
    • It was one of the three elements, along with hydrogen and helium, that were created during the big bang.
  • The element occurs naturally in the Earth’s crust in an abundance of about 0.0007%.

Significance of Lithium

  • Lithium is a soft, shiny grey metal that can be found in the earth’s crust. Lithium is significant to India. Its capacity for energy has made it useful in a variety of industries, earning the nickname “white gold.”
  • The majority of the world’s lithium production in the future will go towards making the batteries that power electric vehicles and other modern appliances.
  • India is currently dependent on imports of lithium because it lacks its own lithium resources.
  • In fiscal 2022, India imported Lithium and Lithium ion worth almost ₹14,000 crore.
  • These reserves are uncommon.
  • India could become truly “Atmanirbhar” by utilising the potential of the lithium reserves in J&K, which would also help it achieve its goals for renewable energy while reducing its reliance on foreign nations.
  • Lithium is a key component of India’s plan to increase EV penetration by 30% by 2030.

What are the dangers of mining lithium?

  • Environmental Pollution: Like any mining activity, there are negative environmental effects, such as air, water, and soil pollution.
  • Highly water-intensive: To extract one tonne of lithium from its ore, approximately 2.2 million litres of water are needed.
  • Highly fragile and environmentally sensitive region: As evidenced by the recent Joshimath subsidence, the Himalayas are a highly fragile and environmentally sensitive region that is susceptible to the long-term negative effects of unauthorised development activities.
  • Environmentalist opposition: Environmentalists may voice their disapproval of mining in the area.

China’s Lithium Dominance

  • Although China is the world’s largest market for electric vehicles, it controls both the supply and demand side of the lithium industry. It also controls nearly 75% of the world’s production of cell components and battery cells. As a result, the spread of EVs may lead to India’s dependence on China, similar to how it is dependent on the Middle East for crude oil.
  • However, the reserves in J&K offer a significant opportunity for India to become self-sufficient.

Do You Know?

  • According to a report by the International Energy Agency, China currently processes 58% of the world’s lithium, followed by Chile, which processes 29%, and Argentina, which processes 10%.
  • Over 170 crore worth of lithium metal and an estimated 8,800 crore worth of lithium batteries were imported by India in 2020–21.
  • The largest lithium reserves are found in Chile.

Conclusion

  • Miners need to do more before they can extract lithium for use in industry.
  • According to the UN Framework Classification of Mineral Resources, the discovery is “inferred,” or preliminary, which is the lowest of the three levels of estimations of a mineral deposit and the second of the four stages of exploration.

March 2024
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