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Business News/ News / India/  India gets ready with rare earth R&D push

India gets ready with rare earth R&D push

Projects will look at critical minerals like lithium, nickel and tungsten over three-year period

The mines ministry has invited proposals on R&D for mining technology, including deep-sea and green mining. Premium
The mines ministry has invited proposals on R&D for mining technology, including deep-sea and green mining.

NEW DELHI : India is scaling up efforts to secure supplies of critical and rare earth minerals, with the mines ministry inviting research and development proposals for mining technology, including deep-sea and green mining, from academic institutions.

India’s plan is to establish and support R&D projects, focussing on critical, rare earth and deep-seated minerals like lithium, nickel and tungsten over three years. The ministry seeks to develop sustainable solutions using technologies like robotics, Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and machine learning for exploration, prospecting, and mining of strategically important minerals found in challenging locations.

“Projects are invited from academic institutions, universities, national institutes and R&D institutions recognized by Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, for up to three years on the identified topics of directed R&D and in thrust areas which have direct bearing on the mineral sector, applied and sustainable aspect of mining and industrial applications," a ministry note said.

The ministry proposes the establishment of R&D projects for mineral categories recently made accessible to private sector mining. The auction process for these mineral blocks is set to start soon.

During the monsoon session, the government revised the mining legislation to remove various atomic and critical minerals, including lithium, from the restricted list, allowing the private sector to participate in the auction for mining.

Separate legislation was introduced to allow the private sector to participate in off-shore and deep-seated mining, including rare earth minerals critical for industrial use.

 “For several mineral categories, spanning critical, strategic, deep seated and rare earth, mining will be fine for the vert first time. The government’s R&D initiatives seek to employ the right technologies so that mining can be undertaken in most efficient and sustainable manner," said a government official privy to the matter on condition of anonymity.  

The R&D initiative of the mines ministry is directed toward five broad heads—critical minerals, rare earth minerals, recycling and circular economy, energy efficiency, and new material and processes. The critical mineral project include development and establishment of technologies for recovery of nickel and lithium from scrap battery, recovery of lithium from new deposits including development of process flow sheets for the mineral beneficiation for new finds.  

Projects have also been invited from institutions for development of a low-cost automated system able to separate aluminium alloys using laser-induced plasma to analyze the composition of materials for rapid and accurate sorting and identification of metals in complex mixtures. Use of artificial intelligence and machine learning will also be an area for research where specific projects would establish technologies for metal scrap sorting, based on colour and shape, which utilize advanced imaging and computer vision techniques to identify and classify metal scraps.  

In the category Internet of Things (loT) and sensor-based technology, the processes would focus on development of systems for metal recycling to enable real-time monitoring, optimize resource allocation, and improve overall operational efficiency.  

The R&D projects will also involve Collaborative robotics programs involving Development of robots also known as cobots, use cameras, robotic arms, grippers, and conveyor systems to lift, move, and stack materials as needed. These can also perform a wide range of tasks such as material handling. assembly, inspection, and maintenance alongside human workers.

Mines ministry is also focusing on development of energy recovery systems that would help in making mining more sustainable. In this the projects would focus on development of low cost heat exchangers or regenerative burners, which can support metal recycling industry for effectively tackling energy losses by capturing and repurposing waste heat generated during the recycling process. It will also involve process and technology development for production of hydrogen from dross.

The projects would also design and develop pit furnaces with energy efficiency of more than 40%. It has been decided by the mines ministry that all R&D project proposals should have mandatory 20% participation from the MDME sector as financial contribution or at least 15% cash contribution. In case of CSIR Labs, co-funding from CSIR of at least 25% of the total project cost or total cost of capital equipment, which ever is higher would be required. Science & Technology (S&T) projects are funded through grant-in-aid by the Ministry of Mines through the process of project evaluation by Project Evaluation and Review Committee (PERC) and recommended projects are approved by the Standing Scientific Advisory Group (SSAG) constituted by the Ministry. The funding for each project would be decided after receiving project proposals and the grant could go up to 100% of the project cost on a case by case basis.

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Subhash Narayan
Subhash is the infrastructure editor at Mint and tracks the momentous developments taking place in the space that is fast changing the Indian landscape. He feels that reporting has been a passion that provides the necessary adrenaline rush and keeps you going.
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Published: 13 Nov 2023, 11:12 PM IST
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