Rio Tinto will work with the Serbian Government to progress its potentially significant lithium project in the Balkan nation, with a targeted production date as early as 2023.
Rio told the market on July 24 it had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Serbian Government relating to its Jadar site, where – in 2004, while exploring for borates – it discovered a new mineral called jadarite, which contains lithium.
The MoU, Rio said, will enable the formation of joint working groups between the government and the miner, to progress the project through the study and permitting phases, legally required for it to go ahead.
“Lithium and borates are essential building blocks for modern life and critical for human progress,” the miner said on Monday.
Lithium is an element used in industrial materials, batteries, medicine, and elsewhere. The Jadar deposit, roughly 160 kilometres from Belgrade, has 136 million tonnes of declared lithium-borate resources.
Rio has so far spent US$90 million developing Jadar, and has progressed it to the ‘middle study’ stages. If feasibility studies confirm the project’s viability, and all necessary approvals are obtained, the miner expects the operation to commence in 2023.
The MoU, Rio’s salt, uranium and borates managing director Simon Trott said, “lays the foundation to progress the project through future stages and brings Serbia and Rio Tinto closer to becoming a leading source of global lithium and borate production”.
Serbian prime minister Ana Brnabić said initiating economic development would help develop the domestic economy evenly.
“The Jadar project will significantly contribute to the development of Loznica and the entire region,” Brnabić said. “The project engages domestic and global experts who, apart from socio-economic parameters pay special attention to environmental protection, without which further progress is unthinkable.”
Serbian mining minister Aleksandar Antić, who signed the MoU on behalf of the Government, said the deal should help speed up the process of opening the mine.
“Progress of the Jadar project in a timely manner, and its implementation, will make Serbia the key producer of the two very important elements – lithium and boron – both of which are important for modern development,” he said.