Serbia pursues talks with Rio Tinto on Jadar lithium-borate project

Company News

by Glenn Dyer

Serbia is actively seeking further discussions with Rio Tinto regarding the future of the Jadar lithium-borate project, despite Rio Tinto's recent statement expressing limited interest and a preference for investing in Argentina's metal industry and the extraction of iron ore in Africa and Western Australia.

The project faced a setback in January 2022 when Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic's government revoked Rio's licenses, following extensive environmental protests. The Jadar project, with an estimated value of $US2.4 billion, held the potential to supply up to 90% of Europe's current lithium demand, potentially elevating Rio Tinto to a prominent position in the lithium production market. However, the venture became embroiled in Serbian politics and encountered difficulties as market dynamics fluctuated.

President Vucic, speaking to Reuters at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, emphasized the importance of public discourse in determining the project's future. He disclosed a challenging conversation with Rio Tinto representatives earlier that day and expressed concerns regarding environmental standards. He also emphasized that the forthcoming government, expected to be formed by May following December elections, should address the project's status.

"(Rio) must offer the cleanest solutions, which could be satisfactory to our people, the highest standards in the world for the nature and the people who will work there," Vucic stated, as reported by Reuters.

In response to these developments, a Rio Tinto spokesperson conveyed their perspective to Reuters via email, stating, "We continue to believe the Jadar project… could act as a catalyst for the development of other industries and tens of thousands of jobs for current and future generations in Serbia."

This statement was in line with the company's pro-forma response included in their 2023 production and sales report, essentially highlighting that the ball is now in Serbia's court.

Meanwhile, Albemarle, a significant player in the lithium industry, made a noteworthy announcement on the same day. The company revealed substantial reductions in a cost-cutting program, which included scaling back various projects, staff, and operations. However, this did not extend to their hydroxide refineries in China and the three facilities in Western Australia.

Albemarle's actions have set the stage for a shift in the landscape of new lithium projects, adding to the uncertainty surrounding the future of the Jadar lithium-borate project in Serbia.

Glenn Dyer

Glenn Dyer has been a finance journalist and TV producer for more than 40 years. He has worked at Maxwell Newton Publications, Queensland Newspapers, AAP, The Australian Financial Review, The Nine Network and Crikey.

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