Afghanistan’s Vast Lithium Reserves Could Be a Game Changer

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Members of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference(COP26) have spoken about peace and stability in Afghanistan.

The conference participants said that the country’s vast lithium reserves are promising for global energy needs.

Experts believe that Afghanistan’s vast reserves of lithium are used in the manufacture of batteries to power mobile phones, laptops, and electric and hybrid vehicles.

However, because transportation from South America is useless for energy-deficient Asian countries, they now hope to stabilize Afghanistan for lithium extraction.

The Financial Times recently reported that Afghanistan’s lithium reserves could compete with those of other countries.

Lithium, like oil, is rapidly becoming a strategic product, said Elif Nuroglu, head of economics at the University of Turkey-Germany (TAU).

“Lithium can be used as a weapon, because in the future it will be used in many fields, from car manufacturing to robots and car machines,” he said.

The British newspaper also revealed that a group of Chinese mining industry representatives had recently traveled to Afghanistan to inspect the site and secure mining rights, even as Afghanistan faces a severe financial and humanitarian crisis.

The Chinese newspaper Global Times also says that political uncertainty, security, economy, and poor infrastructure in Afghanistan are bottlenecks in the mining industry.

Analysts say any extraction and production of lithium in Afghanistan will be conditional on the Taliban guaranteeing security for Chinese investors.

“The Taliban may be considering providing security personnel for Chinese projects, similar to what Pakistan did for the CPEC projects or the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor,” said Claudia Chia, an analyst at the National Institute for South Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore.

In her view, Chinese companies have already been involved in several major projects in Afghanistan, including the Aynak copper mine, the world’s second-largest copper mine, but due to instability and ongoing war, ore mining has been slow and eventually halted.

A report by the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) indicated widespread illegal mining throughout Afghanistan. Accordingly, despite the presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan, insurgents and warlords have been collecting revenue from 2,000 mining sites in Afghanistan over the past two decades.

The report indicates that illegal mining from 2001 to 2021 until the Taliban took control of Kabul cost the government $300 million per year.

In a 2010 survey, geologists and researchers working for the US military reportedly estimated the value of Afghanistan’s lithium resources scattered in Ghazni, Herat, and Nimroz at $3 trillion.

Bloomberg New Energy, a global commodity research firm, says controlling lithium reserves and unused rare-earth elements in Afghanistan will increase competition between the EU and the United States.

According to statistics from 2019, the United States imported 80% of its rare earth minerals from China.

Saeed Mirzad, a member of the US Geological Survey in 2010, told Science magazine: “If Afghanistan reaches peace and stability for a few years and develops its mineral resources, it could become one of the richest countries in the region in a decade.”

Lithium ores in Afghanistan were first discovered by former Soviet mining experts in the 1980s. However, they kept it a secret until 2004, but it came to light when a team of US geologists stumbled upon a collection of old diagrams and data at the Geological Survey of Afghanistan in Kabul.

Using old Russian charts, the United States Geological Survey began aerial surveys of Afghanistan’s mineral resources using advanced gravitational and magnetic measuring equipment attached to the P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft.

In 2007, they used a British bomber equipped with a three-dimensional index of underground mineral reserves. Two years later, a Pentagon task force that had developed trade plans in Iraq moved to Afghanistan.

Mining experts then came to Afghanistan to confirm the findings of the study, informing former Afghan President Hamid Karzai and then the US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates of the mining information.

According to existing scientific findings, in addition to being used in batteries, lithium is also used in nuclear technology, and due to its lightweight and strong heat tolerance, it is alloyed with aluminum and copper in the structural components of the aircraft fuselage. In addition, this rare mineral is used in some psychiatric drugs and dental ceramics.

Based on extensive research, researchers have concluded that Afghanistan may have 60 million tonnes of copper, 2.2 billion tonnes of iron ore, and 1.4 million tonnes of rare earth elements such as lanthanum, cerium, and neodymium.

In addition to large mines of aluminum, gold, silver, zinc, and mercury, initial analyzes in Ghazni province show that the mine has the same lithium reserves as Bolivia, which has 21 million tons.

Experts believe that Afghanistan’s lithium mining alone could generate billions of dollars in wealth for the country, transforming Afghanistan from a poor country in need of foreign aid into a rich and developed country.

However, the prerequisite for mining, which requires large investments and large machinery, is to provide security and political stability in Afghanistan in order to pave the way for mining.