High-grade Lithium in Nigeria

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    In Context

    • Recently, High-grade lithium has been discovered in Nigeria.

    About

    • Greenbushes mine in Western Australia is the largest hard-rock lithium mine in the world. Tantalum is also mined there. 
    • Australia (40,000 tonnes), Chile (20,600 tonnes) and China (14,000 tonnes) mine about 86 per cent of the world’s lithium.
    • The largest importers of lithium are South Korea, China, Japan, US and Belgium.
    • In Nigeria, lithium minerals (spodumene and lepidolite) are known to be associated with cassiterite, columbite-tantalite (coltan) and others in the extensive belt of rare metal-bearing rock types called pegmatite.

    Lithium

    • About:
      • Discovered in 1817 by Swedish chemist Johan August Arfwedson in the mineral petalite, lithium is also found in brine deposits.
      • Lithium is also found in pegmatite ores, such as spodumene (LiAlSi2O6) and lepidolite (of varying structure), or in amblygonite (LiAlFPO4) ores.
      • They are usually found in specialised rocks called rareCand greisens.
      • It constitutes about 0.002 percent of Earth’s crust.
    • Properties:
      • Soft and silverywhite alkali metal.
      • The lightest metal and the lightest solid element.
      • It is soft enough to be cut with a knife. Has a very low density.
      • Lithium is highly reactive and flammable, therefore must be stored in mineral oil.
      • It is never found free in nature, exists in combined forms in ocean water or from brines(by electrolysis of lithium chloride and potassium chloride).
      • Lithium can float on even the lightest hydrocarbon oils and is one of only three metals to float on water(other two: sodium and potassium).
    • Applications:
      • Lithium metal is used to produce useful alloys.
        • For instance, lead is used to produce ‘white metal’ bearings for engines, aluminium is used to make aircraft parts, and magnesium is used to make armour plates
      • To manufacture electrochemical cells. Lithium is a key component in Electric Vehicles, Laptops etc.
      • Lithium is used in rechargeable batteries for mobile phones, laptops, digital cameras and electric vehicles. Lithium is also used in some non-rechargeable batteries for things like heart pacemakers, toys and clocks. The different types of batteries are:
        • Lithium-cobalt oxide battery: It is used in consumer electronics and is being applied in electric vehicles. It is relatively cheap.
        • Lithium-nickel-manganese-cobalt: It is a newer, higher performing range of battery chemistry. It is mainly developed for the electronic vehicle market but is finding a wider use because of its increasing cost effectiveness.
        • Lithium iron phosphate: It is the safest technology with relatively high performance but relatively expensive. It is very popular in China.
        • Lithium-nickel-cobalt-aluminium oxide: It is developed to reduce cobalt consumption and is known as a solid performer and of reasonable cost. It is also becoming popular outside China.

    Lithium Reserves in India

    • Researchers at the Atomic Minerals Directorate( under India’s Atomic Energy Commission) have estimated lithium reserves of 14,100 tonnes in a small patch of land surveyed in Southern Karnataka’s Mandya district recently.Also to be India’s first ever Lithium deposit site found.
    • India currently imports all its lithium needs.

    Way Ahead

    • Even though the current requirement is through import, there is a strong possibility for a strategic partnership with the members of the Lithium Triangle and manufacturing within India.
    • In the 2022-23 Union Budget, a separate battery swapping policy alongside the government’s Faster Adoption of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles (FAME) scheme was adopted. 

    Lithium Triangle

    • The intersection of Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina make up the region known as the Lithium Triangle.
    • The Lithium Triangle is known for its high quality salt flats including Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni, Chile’s Salar de Atacama, and Argentina’s Salar de Arizaro.
    • The Lithium Triangle is believed to contain over 75% of existing known lithium reserves.
    • Half the world’s known reserves are located in Bolivia along the central eastern slope of the Andes range.
    • Exploration and prospection of Lithium at several other specific sites like in Afghanistan, US etc is being carried out.

    Source: DTE