The Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Act 2023 received the assent of the President last week. It aims to promote private sector involvement in mineral exploration, including valuable resources like lithium. Being touted as a prominent reform, it introduces exploration licenses specifically for deep-seated and crucial minerals such as gold, silver, copper, zinc, lead, nickel, cobalt, platinum group minerals, and even diamonds. This empowers the central government to auction mines and increase production of 26 vital minerals in India.
However, the exploration of such minerals poses noteworthy challenges due to their depth and associated high costs. The proposed exploration licenses seek to create an environment that is conducive to foster private sector engagement in all aspects of mineral exploration, with a particular focus on critical and deep-seated minerals. By providing incentives and encouragement, these licenses are designed to attract private companies to participate in the exploration of these essential minerals, potentially unlocking new avenues for resource extraction and economic growth.
“Even in case of conduct of auction by the central government, the mineral concession shall be granted to the selected bidders by the state government only and the auction premium and other statutory payments shall accrue to the state government,” said Prahlad Joshi, union mines minister while introducing the bill in Lok Sabha.
Let us take a look at how mineral exploration will change on the heels of the act.
Encouraging private players for mineral exploration will significantly boost investment in this sector. Private companies often have access to larger financial resources and are more willing to invest in advanced technologies and techniques for efficient exploration. This can lead to faster and more comprehensive surveys, which in turn can uncover new mineral deposits and resources.
One example of a private player investing heavily in mineral exploration is Vedanta Limited, an Indian multinational mining and metals corporation. Vedanta has invested significantly in various mineral exploration projects, including iron ore, copper, zinc, and oil and gas. The company has demonstrated its commitment to developing and expanding its mining operations in India and other countries, focusing on sustainable practices and technological advancements to extract and process minerals efficiently while adhering to environmental regulations. This investment showcases how private players can contribute to mineral exploration and production, driving economic growth and technological advancements in the sector.
Private companies often bring advanced technologies and innovation to mineral exploration. Their expertise in remote sensing, geospatial analysis, data analytics, and other cutting-edge techniques can improve the accuracy and efficiency of exploration efforts. These advancements can lead to the discovery of previously unnoticed deposits and enhance the overall exploration process.
One instance of a private company revolutionizing mineral exploration through advanced technologies is KoBold Metals. The California-based start-up is leveraging artificial intelligence, machine learning, and big data analytics to identify new sources of critical minerals, including cobalt and nickel, crucial for electric vehicle batteries. KoBold combines geological expertise with cutting-edge technology to analyze massive datasets and identify potential mineral deposits. This innovative approach significantly accelerates the exploration process, reduces environmental impact, and enhances the efficiency of mineral discovery.
The involvement of private players can expedite the exploration process. Government agencies often face resource constraints and bureaucratic processes that can slow down exploration activities. Private companies, driven by profit motives, are more likely to focus on maximizing efficiency and delivering results in a timely manner. This can help in unlocking mineral resources faster, contributing to economic growth and development.
OZ Minerals, an Australian mining company partnered with Unearthed Solutions, a company specializing in hackathons and innovation challenges. OZ Minerals recognized the need to accelerate the process of identifying potential mineral deposits. In collaboration with Unearthed Solutions, they organized an "Explorer Challenge" – a hackathon-style event that invited data scientists, geologists, and innovators from around the world to analyze geological and geophysical data provided by OZ Minerals.
During the challenge, participants used their expertise to analyze and interpret vast amounts of geological data. They applied various algorithms, machine learning techniques, and data visualization tools to identify patterns and anomalies that could indicate the presence of valuable minerals. The outcome was impressive – within a few months, the participants generated valuable insights that would have taken years using conventional methods. The analysis provided by the participants helped OZ Minerals narrow down potential exploration sites and prioritize areas with higher mineral potential.
Going forward, the future of mineral exploration in India holds promise as the nation embraces such approaches. With the involvement of private players, the exploration process is set to become more efficient and rapid. Advanced technologies like artificial intelligence, data analytics, and remote sensing will play a pivotal role in identifying potential mineral deposits. These innovations will not only expedite exploration but also enable the discovery of previously untapped resources. The integration of private sector expertise, coupled with cutting-edge technologies, will reshape India's mineral exploration landscape, fostering sustainable growth and enhancing the nation's self-reliance in essential minerals.