Serbian government blasts environmental groups for protests that forced it to abandon Rio Tinto’s Jadar lithium mining project

Serbian government leaders have slammed environmental groups for forcing them to abandon British-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto’s $2.4 billion lithium project, warning the move could jeopardize the government’s efforts to diversify energy. country’s economy and ensure energy security.

Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic announced on Thursday January 20 the cancellation of a project allowing Rio Tinto to build a lithium mine.

The project was abandoned after the country was hit by large-scale protests by groups like Ecological Uprising, Alliance of Environmental Organizations of Serbia (SEOS), Civic Platform Akcija, Don’t Let Belgrade Drown Movement and others.

In December 2021, thousands of environmental protesters took to the streets of Belgrade to demand the abandonment of the proposed project. They blocked major highways, completely paralyzing traffic in the capital. Protesters also expressed concern about the “amount of pollution” the mine would create. The local community has opposed the project saying it will destroy the scenic landscape and require the acquisition of agricultural land.

“We have responded to all demands of the environmental protests and terminated Rio Tinto in the Republic of Serbia,” Brnabic said in a televised address.

While emphasizing that all demands of the environmental protests have been met, Prime Minister Brnabic said “there are no words to describe the hypocrisy of the foreigners who fund these organizations and protests”.

“I spoke about it with several ambassadors and I conveyed to them the same message”, declared the Prime Minister.

Brnabic severely critical the role of the opposition Democratic Party.

“As far as I remember, in 2006, when Rio Tinto received the permit, the Democratic Party was in power under President Boris Tadic. Today, the same people are blocking traffic, as well as border crossings.” said Brnabic.

I don’t know if these protests are environmental, why didn’t you ask Nebojsa Zelenovic (current leader of the centre-left party Together for Serbia) why they gave permission and brought Rio Tinto to Serbia, and today today they are trying to build their political future on this,” Brnabic added.

Zorana Mihajlovic, Serbian minister of mines and energy, also joined the prime minister in criticizing the role of the environmental group. She accused them of injecting politics into environmental issues.

“The government has shown that it wants dialogue… (and) the attempts to use ecology for political purposes demonstrate that they (the green groups) do not care about people’s lives, nor about industrial development “, Mihajlovic told reporters.

Building a batter ecosystem in Serbia

The Serbian government hoped to leverage its huge lithium deposits to build an integrated battery supply chain.

The government hoped that the Jadar project would launch an investment round in the country and help develop a battery supply chain ecosystem

As the largest new mining investment in Serbia, the project promised to make a direct contribution of 1% and an indirect contribution of 4% to the country’s GDP, with many Serbian suppliers involved in the construction of the mine. The project would have significant employment potential, creating 2,100 jobs during construction and 1,000 jobs in mining and processing once in production.

Serbian battery developer ElevenEs unveiled plans to build a $1.2 billion plant to manufacture and recycle electric vehicle batteries in Subotica. The company is said to have developed its own technology to produce lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries for electric vehicles and energy storage applications.

Japan’s Nidec also planned to spend around $1.9 billion to build an electric vehicle engine factory in Serbia.

The European Battery Alliance, a network of electric vehicle supply chain companies formed by Brussels, says the Jadar project “constituted an important part of Europe’s potential internal supply”. Serbia is not an EU member, although it hopes to join the bloc in the coming years.

“This would have helped support the growth of a nascent ecosystem related to industrial batteries in Serbia, contributing a substantial amount to Serbia’s annual GDP,” the alliance said in a statement.

Reverse of Rio Tinto

The move is a setback to the Anglo-Australian miner’s ambition to become Europe’s largest supplier of metal used in electric vehicles.

The Jadar project in western Serbia near the town of Loznica, discovered in 2004, is Rio Tinto’s flagship battery ore project.

Rio Tinto has pledged to invest $2.4 billion to build the mine. At full capacity, the Jadar mine should produce 58,000 tons of battery-grade refined lithium carbonate per year, making it Europe’s largest lithium mine in terms of production. The Jadar lithium project planned to start production in 2027.

Rio Tinto may have already spent US$450 million on pre-feasibility, feasibility and other studies at Jadar to understand the nature of the Jadar deposit.

Shortage of lithium?

Lithium is an essential component in the manufacture of batteries. Electric vehicle (EV) batteries rely on a multitude of rare materials, from lithium to nickel to cobalt. With the growth of the electric vehicle industry, the use of these rare elements is expected to increase and therefore may lead to supply chain issues in the future, as the availability of these rare elements is concentrated in only a few countries.

Experts have said the global lithium shortage is expected to last at least another three years, but the scrapping of the Jadar project could exacerbate the shortage of the key battery mineral.

Read also : Serbia abandons Rio Tinto’s flagship $2.4 billion Jadar lithium mining project after protests from environmental groups

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