Coal India, NMDC, ONGC to scout for critical mineral assets abroad | Economy & Policy News

The Centre has roped in leading public sector enterprises like Coal India, NMDC and ONGC to actively scout for critical minerals in mineral-rich nations abroad, Secretary of Mines, VL Kantha Rao, said on Wednesday.

The Ministry of Mines is also facilitating investment of private companies such as Adani Enterprises, Tata Group and Hindalco in exploring critical minerals in Chile, Australia and other African nations.

The efforts are part of the Centre’s initiative to build a robust supply chain of critical minerals such as lithium, copper and cobalt needed for the country’s energy transition.

“Coal India is actively pursuing some lithium blocks in Chile. NMDC is already active in Australia. They have some gold mines in Australia and are also looking at lithium mines in that country. We have also asked ONGC to explore critical minerals overseas,” Rao said.

Indian PSUs already have some kind of presence abroad.

“We have asked PSUs to look at critical mineral assets abroad, as it is an easy method. They gave some presence abroad. Players like Tata, Vedanta, and Lohum have shown their interest in becoming part of our delegation to Zambia. Hindalco and Adani were also part of our recent delegation to Chile, where we explored opportunities in lithium and copper,” Rao said while speaking on the sidelines of an industry conference in New Delhi.  

A Mines Ministry delegation is scheduled for Zambia in June, as India is exploring a joint exploration with Zambia for critical minerals, including lithium. A separate delegation will head to Congo.

Currently, Khanij Bidesh India Ltd (KABIL), a joint venture comprising National Aluminium Company Ltd (Nalco), Hindustan Copper Ltd (HCL) and Mineral Exploration and Consultancy Ltd (MECL), is dedicated to the identification, acquisition, development, processing and commercial utilisation of strategic minerals from overseas locations to supply in the country.

KABIL has established a presence in Argentina and Australia and is actively negotiating with several countries abundant in critical minerals, such as Bolivia and Chile.

India, he said, is looking for tie-ups with Chile for access to copper and lithium mineral assets in the country.

“We are looking at expanding the current preferential trade arrangement (PTA) with Chile to include a chapter on critical minerals so that we can get government- to-government access to these assets,” Rao said.

In addition to Australia, Argentina, Chile, and Africa, the Centre is also exploring trade routes for coal and copper from Mongolia.

“Mongolia has good coal, and copper assets, and some of the companies have shown interest,” he said, adding that a panel had been formed to study the trade routes.

The government is also studying Bolivia as well for critical minerals and Argentina for more lithium blocks.

Critical minerals such as copper, lithium, nickel and cobalt are important components in rapidly growing clean energy technologies –- from wind turbines and electricity networks to electric vehicles.

Domestically, India is likely to conduct an auction for 10 offshore minerals blocks in two to three months and a fourth tranche of critical minerals auction of about 20 blocks by June-end, Rao said.

The government will also announce the auction results of the first tranche of critical minerals by June 15, he added.

First Published: May 15 2024 | 6:36 PM IST

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