Lithium is the third element in the periodic table after hydrogen and helium. It is also the lightest metal on Earth. Lithium is non-ferrous, toxic and extremely reactive with water. It is so soft that it can be cut with a kitchen knife and has a low density, which makes it float on water. Lithium is also termed a ‘cosmic’ metal as it is among the only three elements created at the beginning of our universe, according to NASA. A study funded by the American space agency revealed that the big bang created a small amount of lithium when the universe was formed initially, but "the majority of lithium gets manufactured in the nuclear reactions that power the nova explosions".
According to the study, the nova explosions distributed the mineral throughout the galaxy. Most of the lithium we use in electronics and medicine today is delivered by the nova explosions. As for its discovery on Earth, it took some time to isolate lithium. A Brazilian naturalist and statesman, Jozé Bonifácio de Andralda-e-Silva discovered the mineral petalite on the Swedish isle Utö in the 1790s, (Royal Society of Chemistry). Swedish chemist Johan August Arfwedson discovered this petalite in 1817, but wasn't able to entirely isolate the metal, though he did isolate one of its salts. The mineral is white to gray in colour, but turns bright crimson if thrown into fire. The name ‘lithium’ is derived from "lithos," the Greek for "stone". It was in 1855 that lithium was isolated for the first time, by British chemist Augustus Matthiessen and German chemist Robert Bunsen. They ran a current through lithium chloride to separate the element.
Lithium is widely used in a variety of applications due to its unique chemical and physical properties. Lithium, a rare and non-ferrous metal, is a crucial mineral used in the manufacturing of batteries for electronic devices manufacturing of electric vehicles and solar panels, and is one of the key components in EV batteries. Lithium falls in the critical resource category which was not earlier available in India and we were dependent for its 100 percent import. “Geological Survey of India for the first time established Lithium inferred resources (G3) of 5.9 million tonnes in the foothills of Mata Vaishno Devi shrine at Salal village (Reasi) in the Salal-Haimana area of the Reasi district of Jammu and Kashmir," the Ministry of Mines, Government of India, announced few days ago, making it one of the largest deposits of lithium in the world. According to report, Lithium found in Jammu and Kashmir is of best quality. The finds in this case are learnt to include bauxite (the ore for aluminum) and rare earth elements, alongside lithium. According to the report, against the normal grade of 220 parts per million (PPM), the lithium found in J&K is of 500 ppm-plus grading, and with a stockpile of 5.9 million tons, India will surpass China in its availability. India joined a select group of countries at the global level after this finding and it will fulfil the vision of Aatmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India).
The unavailability of Lithium has been one of the reasons why India has been dependent on other countries for Li-Ion batteries and other EV components. Lithium being one of the core elements of the Li-Ion batteries and taking into consideration the financial impact of sourcing Lithium, the recent discovery of Lithium reserves in J&K does come in as a new lease of life as it further enables India’s ambition to become self-sufficient in its energy storage needs. Lithium is considered a crucial component for the production of rechargeable batteries, which are used in a variety of electronic devices, including smartphones, laptops, and electric vehicles. The recent discovery of this large deposit of lithium in India could potentially help the country to meet its domestic demand for metal, which has been increasing in recent years due to the growing popularity of electronic devices and electric vehicles. In addition to meeting domestic demand, the discovery of this large deposit of lithium in India could also help the country to become a major player in the global market for lithium. It is expected that these lithium reserve will be a game-changer for the country as well as for the local people in general and youths in particular. People living in the villages around the site are excited at the discovery. Villagers have expressed hope that the discovery of lithium will bring them a bright future. This project will generate ample employment opportunities for the locals. The local youth, whether skilled, semi-skilled or unskilled, will be part of this project. People who will be affected by this project will be adequately compensated and rehabilitated under rules.
However, the development of this lithium deposit is not without its challenges. The process of extracting lithium from the ground is complex and requires significant investments in technology and infrastructure. In addition, the environmental impact of lithium mining is a major concern, and the government of India will need to take measures to ensure that the development of this deposit is done in a sustainable and environmentally responsible manner. About the possible timeline for extraction of lithium to start, it is said that G3 level study will now be followed by G2 and G1 study before the final extraction of the metal. Further, there is also a need for fully exploring the lower Himalayas across Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal and Utrakhand for the availability of such minerals/metals. Lithium refining can be a complex and challenging process, depending on the source of the lithium and the method used for extraction. The largest source of lithium is from mineral deposits such as spodumene, petalite, and lepidolite, which require mineral processing to extract the lithium. This process involves crushing the ore and then separating the lithium using various techniques such as froth flotation, magnetic separation, and gravity separation. Another method for obtaining lithium is from brine lakes, where lithium is extracted through evaporation and solar concentration. This method is typically less complex than mineral processing but can take a longer time to produce a final product. India’s lithium reserves, if manufactured and refined judiciously, can potentially make it a world leader in Lithium market.