Please enlighten us on your role to facilitate bilateral business relations between India and Western Australia?
I am employed by the Government of Western Australia which has a small office in Mumbai. Our team of six work across a number of key sectors that we see as offering good prospects to grow business between India and Western Australia in both trade and investment. Most of my work is related to developing business in the minerals and mining sector in which Western Australia is very strong particularly in battery minerals such as lithium, cobalt and nickel.
As an example of the role we play we helped an Indian company, Manikaran Power, connect with a lithium miner called Neometals in Western Australia. This resulted in the signing of an MOU to look at the feasibility of refining lithium hydroxide in India from the lithium ore output in Western Australia. Manikaran and Neometals are at an early stage of their study, looking for suitable sites that fit their needs such as port access and energy supply. If feasible this would result in trade benefits for us and investment benefits and battery resource supply for India. It’s very exciting, if it proceeds, it would be the first lithium hydroxide refinery in India.
What do you think about the Indian Electric Vehicle Market? What are the steps that can be taken to accelerate its growth?
It’s obviously early days for the EV market in India but clearly the potential for growth is massive. I think the policy steps being taken by the Indian Government are clearly positive but probably the sector is being held back by buyers concerns about the lack of charging infrastructure. I think Government support for the development of charging networks or developing innovative policies to encourage the private sector would help. I’m sure the people working at NITI Aayog will provide good advice to Government to ensure growth.
How different is the Indian Electric Vehicle Market from International Market?
Scale, infrastructure and manufacturing capabilities are the big differences. Obviously the main comparable market is China which can easily overcome issues such as infrastructure because of its form of governance. But China also moved quickly to ensure it had the capacity to manufacture all the necessary components and secure the basic resources for those components. For example China and most other EV manufacturing centres have cell and battery manufacturing capability and both China and the USA are investing heavily in lithium and other mines in Western Australia to secure the minerals needed for those batteries. I know the Indian Government has noted the need to secure lithium and other strategic minerals and has directed some state owned enterprises to look to secure them internationally. They don’t need to look far though! Your Indian Ocean neighbour, Western Australia, has all the minerals they are looking for, including Rare Earth Elements which contain niobium which is necessary for the new high tech and efficient electric motors being developed for EVs.
According to you, what steps should the government take to reform the sector?
I don’t know that sector needs wholesale reform, it just needs the right support to grow. And the opportunities and benefits to India with growth in uptake and demand are enormous. We see the air pollution problems in many large cities that can be reduced with fewer ICE vehicles on the road. We see the massive import bill for hydrocarbons that can be reduced. And perhaps more importantly, particularly if as much of the vehicle as possible are manufactured here we can see the growth of exports to neighbors and beyond, but also spin offs to battery storage, greater use of renewable and new high tech research and industries in the sector with the resultant environmental and employment benefits. India’s growth in renewable has been great and if it continues together with the rapid growth in EV use India can show many other countries the leadership needed to help reduce increases in CO2 in the atmosphere.
Will further investments by large strategic investors and global power firms etc. will bring about change in the industry?
Yes I think so and they might help resolve some of the constraints noted above in relation to charging infrastructure. With the right policy setting you might see institutional investors who are now buying and operating toll roads look to investments they could make that would provide the necessary charging infrastructure. Global firms will also bring innovations and technologies to support the fantastic research and development being done locally here.
E-Mobility technology is moving forward all the time, Is there anything that you’re looking forward to seeing happen in the next few years?
It’s true there are so many rapid advances happening. My colleague, Peter Baldwin visited the Centre for Battery Engineering and EVs at IIT Madras recently and told me about the great research being done there by Professor Jhunjhunwala and Professor Kaur and their team. I’d love to see more international collaborative research. Peter spoke to the professors about them collaborating with researchers that will be part of the newly formed Future Battery Industries Cooperative Research Centre in Perth, Western Australia. This research centre was established to take advantage of Perth location at the centre of battery minerals production and processing. I don’t think many people in India know it but Western Australia produced almost 60% of global lithium in 2018 with the world’s largest lithium mine less than a three hour drive from Perth. Western Australia also ranked among the top 5 global producers for nickel, manganese, rare earths and cobalt in 2018.