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Indonesia on a fool’s errand looking for lithium

JAKARTA – State-owned tin company PT Timah has been tasked with leading the hunt for the one key mineral Indonesia doesn’t seem to have to manufacture lithium-ion batteries: lithium itself. Most experienced geologists feel Timah may be on a fool’s errand.

Mining officials say the search has been focusing on possible deposits in Tikus, on southern Sumatra’s tin-rich island of Belitung, in Hatapang in central North Sumatra and in Aceh’s Tigapuluh mountain range. But that may be more for public consumption than anything.

Geologists rule out Tikus, which is best known for its ironstone, and they doubt the other locations are any more promising when lithium, a soft, silver-white metal, is found in “brines” or “hard rock” in mostly arid regions tropical Indonesia doesn’t have.

Conveniently, Australia does. Boasting at least 4.7 million tonnes of reserves, it is the closest “hard rock” source of a lithium-bearing mineral known as spodumene, which is used to produce lithium hydroxide, a compound now preferred by battery producers.