Rio Tinto to mine lithium in Serbia

Mining group Rio Tinto has announced investments of US$2.4 billion in its planned Jadar project in Serbia to produce, among other things, up to 58,000 tonnes of battery-grade lithium carbonate from 2026.

The project, which is still subject to regulatory approvals, had come to light at the end of May as part of an announcement that Rio Tinto, together with the Slovakian battery company InoBat, intends to build a value chain for the production and recycling of electric car batteries in Serbia.

According to Rio Tinto, the funding for the project is in place with the billion euro sum that has now been pledged. In the next step, the company now wants to obtain the utilisation licence and the other official approvals. This includes the environmental impact assessment commissioned by Rio Tinto, which will be made available for public comment “shortly”.

Jadar is to be built as an underground mine. Rio Tinto plans to use electric dump trucks and a chemical processing plant. The overburden from the mine is to be stored dry and later revegetated. The company says it wants to avoid dams and retention basins. 70 per cent of the raw water is to come from “recycled sources or treated mine water”. Rio Tinto does not specify the origin of the remaining 30 per cent or the absolute quantities.

If the permits are granted, construction is scheduled to begin in 2022, with the mining company targeting “first saleable production” in 2026. According to the announcement, full production is to be reached in 2029 – with 58,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate, 160,000 tonnes of boric acid and 255,000 tonnes of sodium sulphate. This would put Rio Tinto among the top ten lithium producers in the world, according to its own figures. Over the projected 40-year life of the mine, the group plans to mine 2.3 million tonnes of lithium carbonate in Jadar.

“Serbia and Rio Tinto will be well-positioned to capture the opportunity offered by rising demand for lithium, driven by the global energy transition and the project will strengthen our offering, particularly to the European market,” says Rio Tinto CEO Jakob Stausholm. “It could supply enough lithium to power over one million electric vehicles per year.” Stausholm calculates this to be a 60 kWh battery.

According to Rio Tinto, this is one of the world’s largest greenfield lithium projects – the plant is to be built on a greenfield site. To illustrate the dimensions: The mine is said to be directly responsible for one per cent and, because of Serbian suppliers and partners, indirectly responsible for four per cent of Serbia’s GDP. 2,100 jobs are to be created for the construction, and 1,000 employees are to be employed in the operation.


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