Rio Tinto commits $2.4 billion for lithium project in Serbia
Rio Tinto announced plans for a $2.4 billion commitment to the Jadar lithium-borates project in Serbia that when operational, would establish Rio Tinto as the largest supplier of lithium in Europe for at least 15 years.
The Jadar lithium-borates project in Serbia is one of the world’s largest greenfield lithium projects. It remains subject to receiving all relevant approvals, permits and licences and ongoing engagement with local communities, the Government of Serbia and civil society.
“We have great confidence in the Jadar project and are ready to invest, subject to approvals,” Rio Tinto chief executive Jakob Stausholm said in a statement. “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. It could supply enough lithium to power over one million electric vehicles per year.
“The Jadar deposit and its unique mineral, Jadarite, discovered by Rio Tinto geologists in 2004 contains high-grade mineralization of boron and lithium, supporting a long-life operation in the first quartile of the cost curve for both products.”
The Jadar project would scale up Rio Tinto’s exposure to battery materials, and demonstrate the company’s commitment to investing capital in a disciplined manner to further strengthen its portfolio for the global energy transition.
Jadar will produce battery-grade lithium carbonate, a critical mineral used in large scale batteries for electric vehicles and storing renewable energy, and position Rio Tinto as the largest source of lithium supply in Europe for at least the next 15 years. In addition, Jadar will produce borates, which are used in solar panels and wind turbines.
Jadar will be one of the largest industrial investments in Serbia, contributing 1 percent directly and 4 percent indirectly to GDP, with many Serbian suppliers involved in the construction of the mine. Rio Tinto is committed to help develop local businesses so that they can support the operation over the coming decades. It will also be a significant employer, creating 2,100 jobs during construction and 1,000 mining and processing jobs once in production.
“We are committed to upholding the highest environmental standards and building sustainable futures for the communities where we operate. We recognize that in progressing this project, we must listen to and respect the views of all stakeholders,” said Stausholm.
To date, 12 environmental studies and more than 23,000 biological, physical and chemical analyses of air and water have been finalized for the project.
The Jadar development will include an underground mine with associated infrastructure and equipment, including electric haul trucks, as well as a beneficiation chemical processing plant. To minimize the impact to communities, it will be built to the highest environmental standards, including utilizing dry stacking of tailings. This innovative method allows the dry tailings to be progressively reclaimed with vegetation and soil with no need for a tailings dam. Water management will be state of the art with a dedicated facility resulting in approximately 70 percent of raw water coming from recycled sources or treated mine water.
First saleable production is expected in 2026 at a time of strong market fundamentals with lithium demand forecast to grow 25-35 percent/year over the next decade. Following ramp up to full production in 2029, the mine will produce ~58 kt (64,000 st) tonnes of lithium carbonate, 160 kt (176,000 st) of boric acid (B2O3 units) and 255 kt (281,000 st) tonnes of sodium sulphate2 annually, making Rio Tinto one of the top ten lithium producers in the world. Based on this annual production of lithium carbonate, Rio Tinto aims to produce 2.3 Mt (2.5 million st) of lithium carbonate over the expected 40-year life of mine.
The next steps for the project are seeking an exploitation license and receipt of regulatory approvals. This includes approval of the environmental impact assessment (EIA) studies, which will shortly be made available to the public for comment. The EIA is required for the commencement of works, with construction targeted to start in 2022.