Khanij Bidesh India Ltd (KABIL), a joint venture of public sector enterprises NALCO, Hindustan Copper and Mineral Exploration Company, signed an agreement with Argentina's state-owned CAMYEN for lithium exploration and mining. The project cost is about ₹200 crore.

This is the first-ever lithium exploration and mining project by a Government of India-owned enterprise.

KABIL will start the exploration and development of five lithium brine blocks spread across an area of about 15,703 hectares in the Catamarca province of Argentina, the ministry of mines says in a statement.

KABIL, which plans to set up a branch office in Catamarca, Argentina, has obtained exploration and exclusivity rights for the commercial production of lithium from these five mineral blocks.

This will not only boost India's quest for sourcing lithium but will also help in bringing in technical and operational experience for brine-type lithium exploration, exploitation and extraction, the ministry of mines says in a statement.

Argentina is part of the Lithium Triangle along with Chile and Bolivia with more than half of the world's total lithium resources and having the distinction of having second-largest lithium resources, third-largest lithium reserves and fourth-largest production in the world.

"This is a historic day for both India and Argentina as we are scripting a new chapter in bilateral ties with the Agreement signing between KABIL and CAMYEN – a step which will not only play a crucial role in driving the energy transition for sustainable future, but also ensure a resilient and diversified supply chain for critical and strategic minerals essential for various industries in India," says Pralhad Joshi, Union Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, Coal and Mines.

This strategic move not only strengthens the bilateral ties between India and Argentina but also contributes to the sustainable development of the mining sector, ensuring a resilient and diversified supply chain for critical and strategic minerals essential for various industries, the government says.

This comes months after the Parliament amended mining rules, paving the way for private companies to mine lithium, cobalt and nickel – the three critical raw materials required to manufacture battery cells.

According to the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2023, an exploration licence granted through auction will permit the licencee to undertake reconnaissance and prospecting operations for critical and deep-seated minerals. The amendment confers the power to grant a mineral concession to the central government so that it can prioritise the auction of these minerals looking at the requirements of the country. The revenue generated from these auctions shall accrue to state governments. Royalty rates of critical minerals have also been rationalised to encourage more participation in auctions.

Around 5.9 million tonnes (MT) of lithium reserves were discovered in the Reasi district of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). The Geological Survey of India found the G3 category lithium in the state, which means more research and studies are required to reach the final 'confident G1 or G2' category of 'mineable reserves'.

Processing of minerals like lithium in a few countries such as China has led to supply chain vulnerabilities. China tops in the processing of rare earth metals—with 58% of the world's lithium processed in China, along with 35% of the world's cobalt, and 40% of the world's copper used in the manufacturing of battery cells.

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