(Bloomberg) -- Essar Group, which turned debt-free last year after selling some infrastructure assets, is focusing on green projects to benefit from a global shift to cleaner energy sources from fossil fuels.   

The conglomerate, controlled by billionaire brothers Shashi and Ravi Ruia, is considering an entry into mining of critical minerals, building a green steel plant in Saudi Arabia, decarbonizing its oil refinery in the UK, and investment in clean fuel projects in India.

“There is a need now to transition from the old fields to the new fields,” Prashant Ruia, director of Essar Capital, which manages the group’s portfolio of investments, said. The metals-to-ports conglomerate seeks to mine and refine critical minerals, mainly used in electric vehicle batteries, solar panels and wind-turbine magnets, Prashant said in an interview with Bloomberg News. 

The group bets on soaring global demand for critical minerals and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s focus on steady supplies of the raw materials to counter any resource colonialism. China currently dominates the entire value chain of critical minerals, accounting for more than half of the world’s production of battery metals, including lithium, cobalt, and manganese, and almost 100% of rare earths. 

The South Asian nation aims to become an important player in the critical minerals space to make India a manufacturing hub for batteries and electric vehicles and help attain a net zero goal. India currently doesn’t mine key materials like lithium, cobalt and nickel locally.

Essar has monetized several assets in the past few years, including a 20-million-ton oil refinery on India’s west coast. The group is now investing in the next phase of growth, and plans to transform its Stanlow refinery into an “energy transition hub in the northwest of the UK.” The refinery will have a unit to produce blue hydrogen, which is made by converting natural gas and capturing the carbon dioxide emitted in the process.

The group is in the process of finalizing technologies needed to decarbonize its business. “What we are looking at is the technologies for the next 20 years,” he said. “The sector in which we are in, the demand is not going to go away. It’s only changing like from fossil fuels to greener fuels.”   

Essar plans to invest $3.6 billion to decarbonize its Stanlow refinery in the UK and another $4 billion to set up a green steel plant, which will use hydrogen, in Saudi Arabia. The company will seek an equity partner for the 4-million-ton project, once it gains traction, Prashant said. 

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