India’s NMDC eyes WA lithium partnerships with Hancock Prospecting and others

India’s biggest iron ore miner is believed to be closing in on a partnership in WA lithium with Gina Rinehart as the nation looks to scale up quickly in battery minerals to aid its ambitious electric vehicle plans.

Executives of the Indian Government-owned NMDC (formerly the National Mineral Development Corporation) flew out of WA on Friday after a visit that included meetings with the State Government and lithium processors, and a tour of the Roy Hill iron ore mine owned by Mrs Rinehart.

NMDC has had a foot in WA for more than a decade, taking a stake in the undeveloped Mt Bevan magnetite project in the Central Yilgarn in 2011 through its purchase of a majority share of WA junior Legacy Iron Ore.

Last year, Legacy and partner Hawthorn Resources struck a deal for Mrs Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting to take a 51 per cent stake in Mt Bevan, 250km north of Kalgoorlie and 100km west of Leonora in the rich Mt Ida minerals belt, by funding the project through to pre-feasibility.

However, NMDC has more recently turned its attention to lithium and other critical minerals, seeking to upscale India in the mining and processing of battery metals to meet the uptake of EVs in the world’s third-biggest car market.

The Indian Government ambitiously wants EVs to account for 30 per cent of India’s car sales by 2030 from just one per cent today.

India only recently found its first reserves of lithium and has been exploring ways to shore up supplies by buying into overseas deposits.

Significantly, Mt Bevan includes potential for lithium, with regional exploration success by others prompting the partners to ramp up their search for the mineral while simultaneously advancing plans for the magnetite deposit, where a resource of about 1.2 billion tonnes has been identified.

It is believed the Hancock-led joint venture could formalise a lithium pact with NMDC by the end of next month.

However, the Indian group’s interest is not limited to just Hancock; it is also understood to be scouting equity and potential offtake deals in Australia.

One of the companies on its radar is believed to be the David Flanagan-led Delta Lithium. Its flagship Mt Ida lithium project borders Mt Bevan Fast-running Delta, shares in which leapt 23 per cent to 70¢ on Friday, declined to comment.

However, Mr Flanagan has dealt with NMDC previously as head of the then listed Atlas Iron when in 2011 it talked over a potential sale of the Ridley magnetite deposit in the Pilbara to the Indian company.

The deal was never done and Atlas was later taken over by Hancock.

Atlas is now managing the Mt Bevan joint venture on behalf of Hancock, which took up an initial 31 per cent stake through a $9 million upfront investment.

Hancock declined to comment.