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Here’s an interesting, recent news item. Reserves of lithium, critical for EV batteries, found near Bengaluru (Source: Economic Times, Feb 19 2020)

So far, it’s been the Lithium triangle in south America (Argentina, Bolivia and Chile) along with Australia and China that have been home to the world’s large deposits of Lithium.

The world has about 60 million tons of resources (theoretical deposits) of Lithium and about 15 million tons of reserves (accessible resources within a reasonable timeframe and with available technology). 8 of this 15 million are in Chile, 2.7 million tons in Australia, 2 million tons in Argentina and about 1 million tons in China (2019 data).

Bolivia has theoretical resources of 9 million tons (though the country claims it has much more), Argentina about 15 million tons, Chile about 8.5 million tons, Australia about 8 million tons, and China about 4.5 million tons of resources. USA is supposed to have theoretical resources of about 7 million tons, and Canada and Mexico about 2 million tons. These are how theoretical estimates and the practicality of confirming and accessing these for commercial mining is a big question mark. We hence need to focus on the reserves data, and this tells us that the countries to focus on are: Chile, Australia and Argentina for the short and medium term.

India needs lithium for its energy needs, but there has been no comprehensive effort to map local reserves.

So this news item is indeed welcome. While only abut 10,000 tons of Li reserves appear to have been discovered, it is still a wonderful start to 2020, wouldn’t you agree?

At the same time, there’s a big gap between availability and commercial readiness. Firstly, it will take some time to figure out more about the exact quantum of reserves and the quality of the material that can be mined. Equally important, what needs to be known are the costs needed to mine it – which will depend on the status of such deposits.

Even if we are able to mine them successfully, if the costs of the final Lithium produced is too high, why would the Li-ion battery makers want to buy it from them instead of from international suppliers who could be supplying these at much lower prices?

For all these reasons, India should continue its efforts to identify and commercialize such deposits, but should take a long term view on such investments and invest “patient capital”