India seeks overseas help for lithium processing to avoid relying on China


India is in talks with several countries seeking partnerships for technical help on lithium processing, said four sources familiar with the matter, to bolster its nascent lithium mining and electric vehicle industries and avoid relying on China. India’s Ministry of Mines began discussions with Australia and the United States last year, said the four sources, two from India’s government and two industry participants. The Indian government and some private companies have also sought help from Bolivia, Britain, Japan, and South Korea, said the sources, who did not wish to be identified as the discussions were not public. Executives from Russia’s TENEX, part of state-owned nuclear energy company Rosatom, approached the Indian government and have held at least two meetings with Indian officials this year, offering lithium processing technology and the possibility of collaborating with Indian companies, said one of the sources, a senior government official with direct knowledge of the plans.The discussions illustrate efforts by India, the world’s third-largest carbon emitter and oil importer, to develop a lithium mining industry that could provide the chemical feedstocks for batteries for its domestic electric vehicle (EV) industry which could help cut its greenhouse gas emissions and oil dependence.”India needs technology to process lithium and we are looking to collaborate with other countries which have some experience,” said the senior government official. “We are aiming to be self-reliant and one of the ways is through partnerships.” TENEX, Russia’s Ministry of Industry and Trade and India’s Ministry of Mines did not respond to emails from Reuters seeking comments. Russia’s Rosatom declined to comment. New Delhi is in the process of auctioning its first mining rights to lithium blocks, which were discovered last year in the Jammu and Kashmir region and the states of Chhattisgarh. Companies including SoftBank-backed e-scooter maker Ola Electric, Shree Cement, state-run Coal India , miner Vedanta Ltd and Jindal Power are among those bidding for critical minerals blocks, which include lithium, with a shortlist expected by July.Winners will receive licences to explore and mine lithium, and will also be responsible for processing it as lithium concentrates or lithium chemicals for the battery industry.Some of the companies that have bid for the lithium mining rights have sought technical help from companies in other countries to set up refining plants, the sources said.Shree Cement is in talks with an Australian firm seeking technical assistance for a lithium refinery that would cost between $600 million and $700 million, a company source said, without giving the name.’LONG AND BUMPY’Even with outside help, it will take a few years before India is ready to convert lithium ores into material for battery manufacturing, analysts said.”The path to commercialisation is likely to be long and bumpy, especially given that it typically takes anywhere between four to seven years from discovery to commercial production for lithium mines,” said Ritabrata Ghosh, vice-president and sector head of corporate ratings at ICRA Ltd.India needs technical help in ore processing steps such as beneficiation to separate waste rock from ore, and hydrometallurgy, leaching, and pyrometallurgy for separating the metal from the ore, Ghosh said.In the absence of processing plants, Indian companies would likely ship lithium ores to China and bring the processed metal back to India, said Ganesh Sivamani, research associate at the Centre for Social and Economic Progress, a New Delhi-based think tank.Neighbour and rival China accounts for almost two-thirds of the world’s lithium processing capacity.The government’s top policy think-tank NITI Aayog has recommended incentives for setting up lithium processing plants. India’s battery industry will require an annual 56,000 metric tons of lithium carbonate by 2030, according to NITI Aayog.


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