India gets ready with rare earth R&D push

GS Paper III

News Excerpt:

The Ministry of Mines, Government of India (GoI) has invited research and development (R&D) proposals for mining technology.

  • Includes deep-sea and green mining in an effort to secure supplies of vital and rare earth minerals.


  • Focus on critical, rare earth and deep-seated minerals like lithium, nickel, and tungsten over the next three years.
  • To develop sustainable solutions using technologies like robotics, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, and machine learning for the exploration, prospecting, and mining of strategically important minerals found in challenging locations.
  • This initiative would be directed toward five broad heads:
    • Critical minerals
    • Rare earth minerals
    • Recycling and circular economy
    • Energy efficiency
    • New materials and processes

Steps being taken:

  • The government has revised the mining legislation (Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2023) to remove various atomic and critical minerals, including lithium, from the restricted list, allowing the private sector to participate in the auction for mining.
    • It allowed the private sector to participate in off-shore and deep-seated mining, including for rare earth minerals critical for industrial use.
  • The government’s R&D initiatives seek to employ the right technologies so that mining can be efficient and sustainable.
  • The critical mineral project includes the development and establishment of technologies for the recovery of nickel and lithium from scrap batteries.
  • Projects have also been invited from institutions for the development of a low-cost automated system able to separate aluminum 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 color and shape, which utilize advanced imaging and computer vision techniques to identify and classify metal scraps.
  • In the category of Internet of Things (loT) and sensor-based technology, the processes would focus on the 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 the development of robots also known as Cobots, which use cameras, robotic arms, grippers, and conveyor systems to lift, move, and stack materials as needed.
  • The Mines ministry is also focusing on the development of energy recovery systems that would help in making mining more sustainable. 
    • In this, the projects would focus on the development of low-cost heat exchangers or regenerative burners, which can support the metal recycling industry in tackling energy losses by capturing and repurposing waste heat generated during the recycling process. 
    • It will also involve process and technology development for the production of hydrogen from waste.
  • The projects would also design and develop pit furnaces with energy efficiency of more than 40%. 
  • It has been decided that all R&D project proposals should have mandatory 20% participation from the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) sector as a financial contribution or at least 15% cash contribution.

About Rare Earth Elements (REEs):

  • The REEs are a group of 17 elements.
  • They are moderately abundant in the earth's crust but not concentrated enough to make them economically exploitable.
  • It finds key applications in defence, electronics, energy systems, etc such as magnets, battery material as well as sustainable energy systems.

  • REEs are characterized by high density, high melting point, high conductivity, and high thermal conductance.
  • The rare earths occur in many minerals and are recoverable as by-products from phosphate rock and from spent uranium leaching. In India, monazite is the principal source of rare earths and thorium.
  • China dominates the REE market as of now.

REE in India:


  • The Rare Earth (RE) resources in India are reported to be the fifth largest in the world
  • Indian resource is significantly lean w.r.t. grade and it is tied with radioactivity making the extraction long, complex, and expensive. 
  • Indian resources contain Light Rare Earth Elements (LREE) while Heavy Rare Earth Elements (HREE) are not available in extractable quantities.
  • 13.07 million tonnes in-situ monazite (containing ~55-60% total Rare Earth Elements oxide) resource occurs in the coastal beach placer sands in parts of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Gujarat and in the inland placers in parts of Jharkhand, West Bengal, and Tamil Nadu.  
  • More than 80 % of the usage of RE is in permanent magnets which require Magnetic REE i.e. Neodymium, Praseodymium, Dysprosium, and Terbium. 
    • These are precious REEs since they find use in energy transition initiatives.  
    • High-value REEs are Dysprosium and Terbium, which are not available in extractable quantities in Indian reserves already under exploitation. 
    • Minability of REE is further constrained due to CRZ regulations, Mangroves, Forest, and inhabitation.
  • While India has existing facilities from mining to separation and refining in oxide form and has also developed capability of metal extraction, but further industrial-scale facilities (intermediate) from alloy, magnet, etc. still need to be made available.
  • Though after metal extraction, the sector is under the free category, the industry in the intermediate segment is yet to be established due to the non-availability of technology.

Book A Free Counseling Session