The Ministry of Mines has strategically identified 30 critical minerals, including lithium, cobalt, nickel, and graphite, crucial for the country’s economic development and national security.
The move aims to address supply chain vulnerabilities and ensure availability of these minerals for key industries such as clean technologies, information technology, advanced manufacturing, and defense.
What are Critical Minerals?
Critical minerals are elements that are crucial to modern-day technologies and are at risk of supply chain disruptions.
These minerals are used in making mobile phones, computers, batteries, electric vehicles, and green technologies like solar panels and wind turbines.
Minerals such as antimony, cobalt, gallium, graphite, lithium, nickel, niobium, and strontium are among the 22 assessed to be critical for India.
Many of these are required to meet the manufacturing needs of green technologies, high-tech equipment, aviation, and national defence.
Three-Stage Assessment Process
Analysis of Global Strategies: The expert team studied the strategies of major economies and identified 69 elements/minerals considered critical by these countries.
Inter-Ministerial Consultation: Different ministries were consulted to identify minerals critical to their respective sectors.
Empirical Formula for Criticality Evaluation: An empirical formula was derived considering economic importance and supply risk, similar to the methodology used by the European Union.
List of Critical Minerals for India
Identified Minerals: The assessment resulted in a list of 30 critical minerals, including antimony, beryllium, cobalt, copper, lithium, nickel, rare earth elements, silicon, tin, titanium, tungsten, and others.
Fertilizer Minerals: Two minerals critical for fertilizer production, phosphorous and potash, are also included.
Why are these resources critical?
Clean energy transition: Critical minerals are essential to the ecosystem that fuels the world’s transition towards clean energy and digital economy.
Strategic nature: Any supply shock can severely imperil the economy and strategic autonomy of a country that is over-dependent on others to procure critical minerals.
Rare availability: Supply risks exist due to rare availability, growing demand, and complex processing value chain.
What is the China ‘threat’?
Dominant role: China is the world’s largest producer of 16 critical minerals, including cobalt and rare earth elements.
Monopoly in processing: The country has a strong presence across the board in processing operations, with a share of refining around 35% for nickel, 50-70% for lithium and cobalt, and nearly 90% for rare earth elements.
Control over offshore mines: China also controls cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo, from where 70% of this mineral is sourced.
Supply chain dominance: The country’s dominance in critical minerals production and processing raises concerns of a supply disruption in case of a geopolitical conflict.
Challenges in ensuring resilient critical minerals supply
Limited availability of critical minerals: The rare availability of critical minerals poses a challenge in meeting the growing demand for these minerals.
Geopolitical risks: Complex supply chains can be disrupted by hostile regimes or politically unstable regions, leading to supply chain disruptions.
Dominance of certain countries: A few countries, such as China, are the dominant producers of critical minerals, leading to concerns over supply disruptions in case of a geopolitical conflict.
Increasing demand for critical minerals: With the shift towards renewable energy technologies and electric vehicles, the demand for critical minerals such as copper, lithium, and rare earth elements is increasing rapidly.
Reliance on foreign partners: Countries with limited reserves and higher requirements for critical minerals may have to rely on foreign partners to meet their domestic needs, leading to supply chain vulnerabilities.
Environmental and social concerns: The extraction and processing of critical minerals can have negative environmental and social impacts, leading to challenges in meeting sustainability goals.
What are countries around the world doing about it?
Several countries are taking measures to ensure a consistent supply of critical minerals to their domestic markets.
US: It has ordered a review of vulnerabilities in its critical minerals supply chains and shifted its focus on expanding domestic mining, production, processing, and recycling of critical minerals and materials.
Australia: Its Critical Minerals Facilitation Office (CMFO) and KABIL had recently signed an MoU aimed at ensuring reliable supply of critical minerals to India.
UK: It has unveiled its new Critical Minerals Intelligence Centre to study the future demand for and supply of these minerals, and its critical mineral strategy will be unveiled later this year.
India’s Domestic and Global Outreach
Domestic Exploration Efforts:
The Geological Survey of India conducted advanced mineral exploration in Jammu & Kashmir, identifying inferred lithium resources. Further exploration is planned in different parts of the country.
Joint Venture Company:
Khanij Bidesh India Ltd. (KABIL) has been established to acquire overseas mineral assets, including lithium, cobalt, and rare earth elements, ensuring a reliable supply.
Mineral Security Partnership (MSP): India’s inclusion in the MSP, a collaboration of 14 countries, highlights the country’s focus on securing critical mineral supply chains globally and reducing dependency on China.
What should India do to ensure resilient supply?
Developing domestic sources of critical minerals: This can be achieved by promoting exploration and mining activities, both by public and private sector entities.
Encouraging responsible mining practices: The Indian government should encourage responsible mining practices that minimize the negative environmental and social impacts of mining activities.
Need for a Specialized Agency: The expert team proposed the establishment of a National Institute or Center of Excellence dedicated to critical minerals, similar to Australia’s CSIRO.
Promoting transparency in the supply chain: India should promote transparency in the critical minerals supply chain by ensuring the traceability of minerals from the point of extraction to the point of end-use.
Investing in research and development: India should invest in research and development to develop new technologies and processes for efficient extraction, processing, and recycling of critical minerals.
Developing a national critical minerals strategy: India should develop a national critical minerals strategy that identifies priority minerals, promotes domestic exploration and mining, and promotes sustainable and responsible mining practices.
India has a significant mineral geological potential, many minerals are not readily available domestically.
Hence, India needs to develop a national strategy to ensure resilient critical minerals supply chains, which focuses on minerals found to be critical in this study.