The government recently announced that lithium reserves totaling 5.9 million tonnes had been discovered in Jammu and Kashmir’s Reasi district.
GS Paper-3: Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life
What makes lithium metal so crucial to India? What are the dangers of mining lithium? (250 Words)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.