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Lithium Discovered In India: What Does It Mean For Renewables?
India needs lithium to produce lithium-ion batteries used for electrification of transport and storage of renewable energy to boost the nation's efforts towards electrification of transport.
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The Department of Atomic Energy, Government of India has discovered 1600kg Lithium in Mandla district of Karnataka. India has been dependent on Lithium imports for a long time, which makes this discovery more significant.
Lithium has widespread uses across domains. It is added to glasses and ceramics for resistance to temperature fluctuation, it is used in heat-resistant greases and lubricants, and it is alloyed with aluminium and copper for light weight aerial components. Lithium is also used in psychiatric medications and in dental imprints. The lighter of two lithium isotopes is used in the production of Tritium, a key component of nuclear weapons. The most widespread and well-known use of Lithium is in the Lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery. With increasing focus on renewable energy, sustainable batteries are a gaining traction as a viable alternative to conventional, fuel run batteries. Some of the most common applications of lithium-ion batteries are power backup appliances, mobile phones, laptops, and other commonly used electric goods. India is spending a considerable amount of money on Lithium import, which acts as a drain to the Forex. The import bill of Lithium has risen upto three-fold between 2017 to 2020.
India’s first Lithium plant has been set up at Gujarat in 2021, where Manikaran Power Limited will invest Rs 1000 crore to set up this refinery. The refinery will use Lithium ore to produce base battery material. The growing demand for Lithium in India is driven by the goal of Indian government to become one of the largest electric vehicle markets world over. NITI Ayog has set an ambitious target to increase the number of electric vehicles by 30 percent by 2030. In line with these goals, the Lithium refinery will help make Gujarat a hub for Lithium-ion batteries, as there are already a few battery manufacturing plants that are being set up in Gujarat. This factory becomes important, because India currently relies on other nations like China, Japan, and Taiwan for its electric battery supply. This
discovery will reduce import dependency and promote make in India, along with atmanirbhar bharat in the energy sector.
While we have discovered 1600kg Lithium reserves, other countries are far ahead in Lithium discovery and export. Bolivia is the leading producer with 2.10 crore tonnes lithium reserves, and Argentina has 1.70 crore tonnes of Lithium. India has a lot of catching up to do with respect to research and study of potential deposits. The public sector and the private players have recognised the potential of Lithium powered electric batteries in the renewable market. TATA is working on 100% made in India Li-ion batteries. Electric mobility, Energy Storage Systems, India has also signed an MoU with Argentina in the field of Lithium, to establish scientific-technological cooperation. This will aid faster transition to battery use, which is a plus for renewable energy. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) manufactures these batteries, but their quantity is presently limited, and they are severely restricted in use. In 2018, Central Electro Chemical Research Institute in Tamil Nadu, in collaboration with RAASI Solar Power Private Limited signed a Memorandum of Agreement for Li-battery operation and technology transfer to India. Further, India and Australia have signed an agreement with respect to Lithium trade in 2019.
The element is promoted because it has a lot of potential in the renewable sector of the modern energy spectrum, some of its advantages include:
· Lithium-ion batteries can serve as a solution for varied power demands across the spectrum. It can range from vast energy storage to portable energy storage solutions. They can thus be used as large or small batteries.
· One of the major advantages of a lithium-ion battery is its high energy density. This implies Li-ion batteries can last way longer between charges, while maintaining high current output. This makes it an ideal battery for most of our contemporary needs. We are spending increasing number of hours on our mobile
phones, Li-ion batteries can make sure that we are on the go always and spend minimal time attached to a charging cord.
· Lithium batteries have low self-discharge, not only whilst being used, but lithium-ion batteries have a clear advantage when not being used as well. When not in use, the rate of self-discharge is extremely low. The leakage of harmful chemicals is a common phenomenon in conventional batteries.
· Li-ion batteries are low to minimum maintenance, most other cells like Nickel-Cadmium (Ni-Cd) batteries have a huge cost of ownership and maintenance.
· One of the advantages of Li-ion batteries is the fact that they come in all shapes and sizes, giving the users with many options to choose from according to their needs.
· As per Benchmark Mineral Intelligence (BMI) report, between 2014 and 2017 the price of Lithium battery fell by16.5% per annum, and between 2017 and 2020 there was further drop of 5.8%. This shows that appliances powered by Li-ion batteries will be cheaper, especially electric vehicles.
However, despite the advantages, there is a lot of work that needs to be done. Petrol run vehicles use lead-acid batteries, and not Li-ion batteries, because the latter is sensitive to overheating. They also degrade faster in higher temperatures and can even explode on overheating. Dependent on flammable and combustible materials, current Li-ion batteries are susceptible to fire and explosion incidents, most of which is without any warning. It is noteworthy that in the recent past, Samsung Galaxy7 phones were banned from airlines because of this danger; the Indian Navy has also prohibited e-cigarettes on ships and submarines to reduce the flammability of the power source of electronics. There is thus rising caution and growing negative sentiment in the market to e-batteries, which must be addressed.
The Prime Minister, Narendra Modi has declared 350 GW by 2030 as its renewable energy goals. Lithium discovery is a crucial step to making India self-reliant in the renewable sector and achieve the energy goals. However, a lot is left to be worked on in this domain.