Govt to start exploring raw materials  for fertilisers, batteries

ISLAMABAD:  The federal government of Pakistan has set in motion ambitious efforts to host exploration missions for phosphate and lithium ores. These ores are crucial for both agricultural fertilisers and lithium, a fundamental component for electric vehicle (EV) batteries.

As per documents available with this scribe, the Federal Secretary for Science and Technology, Mr Ali Raza, recently chaired a pivotal meeting with the Geological Survey of Pakistan (GSP) and representatives from the Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (PCSIR) on September 19, 2023. The meeting was held at the Ministry of Science and Technology. The primary objective of this meeting was to strategize and coordinate the exploration of Phosphate and Lithium Ores, both of which are of substantial economic and strategic significance for Pakistan.

Phosphate Ores:

As per details Phosphate ores play an indispensable role in agriculture, serving as the primary source of phosphorus, a vital nutrient essential for crop growth. The rising global demand for phosphate fertilisers is driven by the increasing requirements of food production, raising concerns about supply security for many nations. Thus, the exploration of domestic phosphate reserves becomes imperative to ensure Pakistan’s agricultural needs and food security.

Currently Pakistan is highly reliant on imports to fulfil its fertiliser needs. In the fiscal year 2020-21, Pakistan imported 749,154 tons of phosphate, valued at $109 million. In 2022-23, imports decreased to 438,356 tons but surged in value to $ 143 million. Even though Pakistan imports most of the extracted phosphate, it also exports some of its phosphate ores. In 2020-21 21,634 tons were exported, which were valued at $2 million. In 2022-23, exports saw an increase to 27,042 tons, which were worth $ 3 million.

Lithium Ores:

The documents highlight that lithium is a critical ingredient in the manufacturing of batteries for electric vehicles (EVs) and renewable energy storage systems. The global shift towards clean energy and the electrification of transportation has fueled a significant demand for lithium. Currently, China and Australia are the dominant global suppliers of lithium, highlighting the issue of supply chain dependency. Therefore, exploring domestic lithium reserves assumes strategic importance.

In the fiscal year 2021-22, Pakistan exported 46.6 tons of lithium, with an export value of $46.6 thousand (approximately Rs 97 lakh). Notably, no imports of lithium were recorded during this period.

Mapping the Value Chain: During the meeting, the Geological Survey of Pakistan (GSP) and PCSIR were assigned the task of “mapping the entire value chain of phosphate and lithium ores in Pakistan.” This comprehensive analysis will encompass processes from extraction to the final product, necessitating access to current information and resources within the country’s mining and processing sectors.

A series of strategic actions were outlined during the meeting to advance the exploration and utilisation of phosphate and lithium ores. These actions contain steps like updating and digitising the current data and making it accessible online for all stakeholders.

The collective bodies plan to conduct surveys throughout Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province for exploration, while also conducting mining surveys of already available phosphate and lithium ore sites in the country.

The PCSIR and GSP will also be working towards establishing a business proposal and attracting investments for this purpose.

In the weeks ahead, the Ministry of Science and Technology has scheduled further meetings to deliberate on these plans. The key points of discussion in these forthcoming meetings will include: the current status of phosphate and lithium ore reserves in the country, strategies for responsible extraction and utilisation, regulatory and policy framework updates, investment and collaboration opportunities and stakeholder concerns and recommendations.

Ghulam Abbas
Ghulam Abbas
The writer is a member of the staff at the Islamabad Bureau. He can be reached at [email protected]

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