Green Minerals Race

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    Green Minerals Race

    Syllabus: GS3/ Energy

    In Context

    • Recently, Ghana approved a new policy for the exploitation, management and regulation of lithium and other green minerals in the country.

    About the critical minerals

    • About:
      • Critical minerals are elements that are the building blocks of essential modern-day technologies, and are at risk of supply chain disruptions. 
      • These minerals are now used everywhere from making mobile phones, computers to batteries, electric vehicles and green technologies like solar panels and wind turbines
    • Lists of critical minerals:
      • Based on their individual needs and strategic considerations, different countries create their own lists.
      • Such lists mostly include 
        • Graphite, lithium and cobalt, which are used for making EV batteries; 
        • Rare earths that are used for making magnets and 
        • Silicon which is a key mineral for making computer chips and solar panels. 
      • Aerospace, communications and defence industries also rely on several such minerals as they are used in manufacturing fighter jets, drones, radio sets and other critical equipment.

    About Green Minerals

    • What are the Green Minerals?
      • Often referred to as “minerals of the future”, green minerals are metals and other mineral resources that are needed to support the transition to clean energy technologies aimed at reducing carbon emissions. 
      • These include — bauxite, cobalt, copper, lithium, granite, manganese and nickel.
    • Demand of clean energy technologies:
      • According to the International Energy Agency, electric vehicles (EV) and battery storage account for about half of the mineral demand growth from clean energy technologies over the next two decades, spurred by the surging demand for battery materials.
      • Mineral demand for use in EVs and battery storage is expected to grow around 30 times in the period to 2040
      • Lithium will see the fastest growth rate, with demand growing by over 40 times in the sustainable development scenario, stated the Africa Development Bank in a paper on African Green Minerals Strategy.

    Africa & critical rare earth elements:

    • Africa’s store of critical rare earth elements: As global demand for critical rare earth elements rises, many countries have looked to Africa’s abundant stores of cobalt, lithium, copper and other minerals vital to the manufacturing of modern technologies. 
      • Extraction of Africa’s reserves has been largely hindered by weak domestic governance structures and policy impediments. 
      • But the continent is set to remain one of the major suppliers of a number of commodities in the coming years.
    • Export bans by African Countries: Ghana’s new policy prohibits export of critical minerals including lithium, bauxite and iron, among others, in their raw state since this denies the country opportunity to add real value to the economy
      • In 2023, the Namibia government banned the bulk export of unprocessed minerals including lithium, graphite and cobalt, known in the industry as direct shipping ore (DSO). 
      • In 2022, Zimbabwe prohibited export of raw lithium from its mines to stop losing billions of dollars in mineral proceeds to foreign companies.
    • Significance of the export bans:cChina is among the largest players on the continent with billions invested in the African mining and mineral extraction sectors.
      • As countries, especially China, rush to Africa, these developments across Africa are in accordance with the “continental strategy” to ensure larger and just share of the profits from “green minerals”.

    India’s critical minerals:

    • 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.
    • While India has a significant mineral geological potential, many minerals are not readily available domestically.

    Challenges for India

    • Scarce reserves: Manufacturing renewable energy technologies would require increasing quantities of minerals, including copper, manganese, zinc, and indium. 
      • Likewise, the transition to electric vehicles would require increasing amounts of minerals, including copper, lithium, cobalt, and rare earth elements.
      • However, India does not have many of these mineral reserves, or its requirements may be higher than the availability, necessitating reliance on foreign partners to meet domestic needs.
    • Inadequate listing: Many critical and strategic minerals constitute part of the list of atomic minerals in the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) (MMDR) Act, 1957.
      • However, the present policy regime reserves these minerals only for public sector undertakings.

    Suggestions and Way Forward 

    • Creating a new list: Given the increasing importance of critical and strategic minerals, there is an imperative need to create a new list of such minerals in the MMDR Act
      • The list may include minerals such as molybdenum, rhenium, tungsten, cadmium, indium, gallium, graphite, vanadium, tellurium, selenium, nickel, cobalt, tin, the platinum group of elements, and fertiliser minerals such as glauconitic, potash, and phosphate (without uranium).
      • These minerals must be prospected, explored, and mined on priority, as any delays may hinder India’s emissions reduction and climate change mitigation timeline.
    • Encouraging exploration: The reconnaissance and exploration of minerals must be encouraged, with particular attention given to deep-seated minerals. 
      • This will call for a collective effort by the government, ‘junior’ miners, and major mining companies. 
    • Processing & assembly: India needs to determine where and how the processing of minerals and assembly of critical minerals-embedded equipment will occur.
    • Securing supply chain: In addition, India must actively engage in bilateral and plurilateral arrangements for building assured and resilient critical mineral supply chains. 
    • Periodic assessment: Furthermore, the assessment of critical minerals for India needs to be updated every three years to keep pace with changing domestic and global scenarios.
    • Atma Nirbhar in critical minerals: India requires a critical minerals strategy comprising measures aimed at making the country AatmaNirbhar (self-reliant) in critical minerals needed for sustainable economic growth and green technologies for climate action, national defence, and affirmative action for protecting the interests of the affected communities and regions.
    • National critical minerals strategy: A national critical minerals strategy for India, underpinned by the minerals identified in this study, can help focus on priority concerns in supply risks, domestic policy regimes, and sustainability.

    Daily Mains Question

    [Q] What are the Green Minerals? What are the challenges for India in regards to exploration, management and regulation of these minerals? How can India be a part of  critical mineral supply chains?