28 May 2024
Waste to Wealth:  Vedanta Aluminium’s Contribution to India’s Mission for Critical Minerals

By Dr. Amit Chatterjee, Head – Research & Development, Vedanta Aluminium : India’s quest for economic growth and clean energy has put a spotlight on securing vital raw materials crucial for various technologies. Picture this: from solar panels to electric cars, these materials are the unsung heroes driving our modern world. To tackle this challenge head-on, the Ministry of Mines, Government of India, initiated auctions for 20 blocks of key minerals in November 2023, followed by 18 more in February 2024. These auctions cover a gamut of thirty minerals which are declared as Critical Minerals, which include nickel, cobalt, copper, graphite, manganese and lithium – minerals pivotal for India’s green energy transition. Also included in this list of critical minerals are few Rare Earth minerals notably scandium, neodymium etc.

Amidst this push, Vedanta Aluminium’s Research & Development (R&D) team’s initiative to recover graphite from used electrodes of our aluminium smelting units, and rare earth oxides from bauxite residues may really stand out to contribute to our nation’s quest of sourcing high quality graphite and rare earth minerals like scandium. Through our innovative R & D project, we are working towards extracting high-purity graphite powder (>99% purity) from Spent Pot Lining (SPL) and Shot Blast Dust – two waste products generated in the making of aluminium metal from alumina powder. This solution aligns with Vedanta Aluminium’s ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) principles and can contribute significantly to the circular economy agenda promoted by it.

The recovered graphite demonstrated highly promising results in electrical conductivity and its structural properties are suitable for applications in energy storage devices. The atomic structure of this recovered graphite is observed to be extremely useful for a process called Lithiation and De-lithiation and makes it suitable for the manufacturing lithium-ion batteries – which are vital for everything from smartphones to electric cars. This disruptive development and evaluation of subsequent application was developed in collaboration with the Institute of Minerals and Materials Technology (IMMT), a reputed CSIR Laboratory in Bhubaneswar. Closer home, this graphite can be used in the production of electrodes for aluminium production at our mega aluminium plants and can also fulfil the need for our country’s critical need for graphite.

Graphite’s importance cannot be overstated. With over 70% of India’s graphite being imported due to low-quality domestic reserves, the stakes are high. In FY23 alone, India spent $167 million on graphite imports, a 34% jump from the previous year. And with the demand for electric vehicles and renewable energy storage soaring, graphite’s role in lithium-ion batteries is indispensable. Vedanta Aluminium’s technology promises to reduce this import reliance significantly.

But Vedanta Aluminium isn’t stopping there. Their collaboration with other aluminium giants, eminent CSIR Laboratories, JNARDDC and  backed by Niti Aayog, to extract Rare Earth Oxides from bauxite residue is expected to be another game-changer. These oxides notably scandium is crucial for creating cutting-edge aluminium alloys for sectors like defence, aerospace, maritime, and automotive, where India currently lacks primary sources of the minerals. By harnessing these secondary resources, Vedanta Aluminium is pushing innovation while propelling India towards self-sufficiency. As the Government of India emphasizes the strategic importance of Critical Minerals in realizing the vision of an Atmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India) and accelerating decarbonization efforts, it becomes imperative to chart a clear roadmap with identified stakeholders. Vedanta Aluminium’s trailblazing efforts in R&D exemplify a proactive approach towards reducing import dependence, fostering innovation, and bolstering India’s position in the global economic landscape.