Strategic pivot: CIL plans dedicated team for critical minerals pursuit

  • The focus on critical minerals aligns with the company's decision to participate in India's first-ever auction of critical mineral mines.

Rituraj Baruah
First Published29 Mar 2024
The dedicated focus on critical mineral comes at a time when the company has participated in the first ever auction of critical mineral mines in the country.
The dedicated focus on critical mineral comes at a time when the company has participated in the first ever auction of critical mineral mines in the country.(Bloomberg)

New Delhi: State-run Coal India Ltd (CIL) plans to establish a dedicated team, headed by the director of business development, to spearhead its search for lithium and other critical minerals worldwide, including in India, according to people in the know.

"Critical mineral will be looked after by a special team, which will be formed within Coal India," one of the people said, seeking anonymity. The director for business development at CIL is mandated to explore diversifications into other sectors beyond its core coal production business, he added.

The current director for business development Debashish Nanda recently got a six-month extension to lead the operations for the world's largest coal minor, until a permanent replacement is appointed.

A second person indicated that, depending on the progress in the business segment, the company may consider establishing a subsidiary in the future.

Queries emailed to a Coal India spokesperson remained unanswered till press time.

The focus on critical minerals aligns with the company's decision to participate in India's first-ever auction of critical mineral mines. Oher participants include NLC India, alongside private sector leaders such as Vedanta, Jindal Power, the Dalmia Group, and EV manufacturer Ola Electric.

In January, Mint reported that the state-run mining giant is looking to acquire rare earth and critical mineral mines, including lithium directly from the government, besides placing bids at the auctions.

The company can apply for mines in reserved areas under the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act. Additionally, it has been exploring acquisition opportunities for critical mineral mines abroad.

"We are exploring the acquisition of lithium, cobalt, and nickel assets abroad, and have amended our memorandum of association (MoA) to include non-ferrous and critical minerals. We are currently identifying suitable overseas assets for mergers and acquisitions," CIL had said in its FY23 annual report.

Earlier this month, the coal ministry said that CIL has entered into two non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) with companies in New South Wales, Australia, for collaboration in mining of critical minerals. Australia has the second largest reserves of lithium in the world after Chile. The company is also looking at opportunities in Argentina, which has the third largest lithium reserves.

The public sector major's foray into critical minerals is a strategic move as India is looking at lowering dependence on China, which has the fourth largest reserves, and boosting its own manufacturing sectors, relying on lithium.

Lithium, along with other critical minerals, are key components for manufacturing batteries, and telecom and defence equipment. India is looking to develop its own manufacturing ecosystem, and would require a robust raw material supply chain.

India is a net importer of critical minerals. In a bid to boost domestic mining, the government had passed the Mines and Minerals (Development & Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2023, to offer exploration licence for deep-seated and critical minerals.

In June 2023, the ministry of mines came up with a list of 30 minerals critical to India's economy, including Antimony, Beryllium, Bismuth, Cobalt, Copper, Gallium, Germanium, Graphite, Hafnium, Indium, Lithium, Molybdenum, Niobium, Nickel, PGE, Phosphorous, Potash, REE (rare earth elements), Rhenium, Silicon, Strontium, Tantalum, Tellurium, Tin, Titanium, Tungsten, Vanadium, Zirconium, Selenium and Cadmium. Rare earth elements include Neodymium, Praseodymium, Dysprosium, Europium, Yttrium, Terbium.

In July 2023, union minister for mines and coal Pralhad Joshi had told parliament that in FY24, the Geological Survey of India (GSI) has undertaken about 122 critical mineral exploration projects.

CIL's diversification plans span renewable energy, thermal power, coal gasification, coal bed methane projects, fertilizer and aluminium.

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