Rio Tinto has pledged $US2.4 billion ($3.2 billion) to develop the Jadar lithium-borates operation in Serbia, a project that it says will transform the company into the largest supplier of lithium in Europe.
Jadar is one of the largest greenfield lithium projects globally and is expected to produce battery-grade lithium carbonate used in electric vehicles.
The company stated that the project would be a key part in strengthening its portfolio for the world’s transition to cleaner energy sources.
According to Rio Tinto, Jadar will allow the company to become the largest source of lithium supply in Europe for the next 15 years once production starts.
The project will also produce borates for use in solar panels and wind turbines.
Rio Tinto chief executive Jakob Stausholm said the company is confident in Jadar’s potential and, subject to approvals, it was ready to invest in the project.
“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,” Stausholm said.
“It could supply enough lithium to power over one million electric vehicles per year.”
The $2.4 billion investment will be one of the largest industrial investments in Serbia’s history with a 4 per cent indirect contribution to its gross domestic product (GDP).
It is expected to create 2100 jobs during construction and 1000 mining and processing jobs.
“The Jadar deposit and its unique mineral, Jadarite, discovered by Rio Tinto geologists in 2004 contains high-grade mineralisation of boron and lithium, supporting a long-life operation in the first quartile of the cost curve for both products,” Stausholm said.
Jadar is subject to approvals, permit and licenses with Rio Tinto committing to ongoing engagement with local communities, the Government of Serbia and the public.
“We are committed to upholding the highest environmental standards and building sustainable futures for the communities where we operate. We recognise that in progressing this project, we must listen to and respect the views of all stakeholders,” Stausholm said.
Jadar will include an underground mine along with electric haul trucks and a benefication chemical processing plant. It will also adopt dry stacking of tailings to adhere to high environmental standards.
Rio Tinto is anticipating first saleable production in 2026 which is backed by a 25-35 per cent increase in lithium demand over the next decade.
The site will be ramped up to full production in 2029, producing around 58,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate, 160,000 tonnes of boric acid and 255,000 tonnes of sodium sulphate per year. This would make the company one of the top 10 lithium producers globally.
Rio Tinto will aim to produce 2.3 million tonnes of lithium carbonate at Jadar over its expected 40-year mine life.