The country could become a major player in the global battery production market. A market that is expected to expand considerably in the coming years, particularly with the electrification of transport.
India has discovered a lithium deposit estimated at 5.9 million tons in the Jammu and Kashmir region, representing 5.7% of the world's lithium reserves. In 2018, lithium reserves were estimated at around 14 million tons worldwide. The Indian discovery increases these by over 40%. It should be noted that the precise nature of the subsoil is not well known around the world. A more recent American study dating from 2019 announced a global lithium deposit of 80 million tons, in this case, the Indian discovery represents about 10% of the total already known.
India has been entirely dependent on imports for its lithium supply. This discovery will change many things for the country. The country will also be able to compete directly with the major lithium mining countries Australia, Chile and China. By way of comparison, the largest lithium deposit in the world is in Chile, with a resource of 9.2 million tons. This figure is not far off the 5.9 million tons of lithium found in India.
Lithium is an essential element in the manufacture of batteries used in smartphones and other electric cars, and is also used in the manufacture of solar energy systems. The discovery will help India accelerate its green transition away from fossil fuels.
It is often said that electric cars are not a solution in the fight against global warming. One of the reasons given is the high lithium content. Each battery contains several kilograms of this chemical element. Some experts fear that the rush for this white gold will create tensions and shortages, as supply is lower than demand.
The world's largest lithium producers in 2020:
Bolivia contained about 21 million tons of lithium, compared to 17 million for Argentina, 9 million for Chile, 6.8 million for the US, 6.3 million for Australia and 4.5 million for China.
Polluting extraction of Lithium.
Another problem with lithium is its polluting extraction, which is not free of pollution. It is a complicated process that requires extensive infrastructure and the mobilisation of various products. Moreover, lithium batteries at the end of their life become waste and are sometimes disposed of in the environment.
But this could change in the future, and scientists are working to create lithium batteries that are recyclable. The European Union is currently working to make the lithium manufacturing process more responsible, both by using electric machines in the mines and by using new techniques such as geothermal energy, which is being tested in Europe. In any case, the whole life cycle of the electric car is "cleaner" than that of the combustion car, whether diesel or petrol.
Lithium extraction is also much less polluting than oil extraction.
However, measures to limit the environmental impact will have to be taken as the electrification of transport will grow considerably in the coming years, and this on a global level. In other words, the demand for lithium batteries will explode and it is preferable that a framework be put in place.
The electric car can do without lithium.
It should be noted that in the medium term, the electric car will be able to do without lithium in favour of sodium, as is the case with the Chinese battery giant CATL, which is responsible for the battery that allows electric cars to travel 1,000 km, and which is preparing the first sodium battery for 2023.