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NMDC Ltd is exploring opportunities overseas to mine lithium, nickel and cobalt as the state-run iron ore producer looks to meet strong demand in India which is seeking to become a global manufacturing hub for electric vehicles.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Sumit Deb, chairman and managing director of NMDC, did not name the countries where the company plans to mine the three minerals, critical to produce electric vehicle batteries. He said NMDC plans to start mining in Australia through Legacy Iron Ore Ltd. NMDC holds 90.02% stake in Australia’s Legacy Iron Ore Ltd.

NMDC is also exploring opportunities to mine gold in Andhra Pradesh, and other countries such as Tanzania and Zimbabwe, he said Deb.

NMDC’s diversification strategies track India’s aim to boost domestic manufacturing of batteries for electric vehicles. Lithium, nickel and cobalt minerals are used in the production of EV batteries.

Other state-run companies have also accelerated efforts to mine minerals abroad. In 2019, Khanij Bidesh India Ltd was incorporated by state-owned National Aluminium Company Limited, Hindustan Copper Ltd and Mineral Exploration and Consultancy Ltd to acquire strategic mineral assets including lithium and cobalt overseas.

Deb said NMDC will also explore lithium reserves in India. In its annual report for FY22, the company said it has submitted a proposal to the Karnataka government to reserve 24.95 square kilometre area for lithium and other associated elements in Raichur district for the grant of prospecting and mining operations.

According to the report, the company had also submitted a proposal to Jharkhand government to reserve an area of 16.70 square kilometre in Saraikela-Kharswan district, of the state for grant of prospecting and mining operation of copper, nickel, cobalt and molybdenum mineral. The matter is being pursued with the state government to reserve the area, it said.

India is looking to source minerals for manufacturing EV batteries in a bid to reduce dependence on China, the world’s largest maker of EV batteries, amid geopolitical tensions between the two nations. The government has also come up with a production-linked incentive scheme for advanced chemistry cells to boost battery manufacturing in the country.

On demerger of its steel plant at Nagarnar, Chhattisgarh, Deb said it is likely to be completed this quarter. Shareholders and creditors of NMDC had approved the demerger of the steel plant in June, which will be subsequently listed as NMDC Steel Ltd.

Meanwhile, addressing a curtain raiser event for a conference on Indian minerals and metals industry being organized by NMDC and FICCI on 23-24 August in Delhi, Deb said that given the vast mineral resource base in India and the evolving and easing business and regulatory environment, international giants too are showing interest in the country’s mining industry.

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