Rio Tinto: We Have Not Given Up on Jadar Project

Source: Beta Sunday, 18.12.2022. 12:34
(Photo: Shutterstock/Jason Benz Bennee)
Rio Tinto Ltd Chief Executive Jakob Stausholm said on Thursday that the miner has not given up on its Jadar lithium project in Serbia, TV N1 reports, citing Reuters. Stausholm told an investor briefing in Sydney that Jadar is “an amazing asset”, Reuters reports.

– The world needs it, Serbia needs it. We need to figure out how to go about it. The only thing I would say today is we haven’t given up – he said.

Reuters reminds that Rio said in July it was “exploring all options” at Jadar as it sought to address community concerns.

Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic recently said that she does not see a chance of reviving the Jadar project, but that she has regrets because the project was a historic chance for Serbia’s development.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic told the Serbian state TV (RTS) on Thursday evening that he loves talking about lithium, that it is very important and that Serbia made a huge mistake by stopping the Jadar project.

Although, at least officially, the lithium excavation project has been abandoned, according to the Handelsblatt daily, Serbia is one of those countries that, according to Germany’s plan, should be incited to exploit lithium in order to boost the European production of batteries and reduce the dependence on China.

This, as said, is a secret document which Berlin has submitted to the European Commission (EC) and which lists 20 concrete proposals and projects which should kickstart the EU initiative Global Gateway, as a response to the Chinese project Belt and Road, and infrastructural investments.

No lithium mine has opened in the EU yet, although the plan is for the EU to reach zero carbon-dioxide (CO2) pollution by 2050 and for tens of millions of electric cars to be driven by 2030.

There are projects which are in the development phase. Lithium is only extracted in Portugal, but for the needs of the ceramics industry, whereas the opening of a large mine, such as the one planned in Serbia, is yet to happen. The reasons are expected, namely, the negative impact of the mine on the living environment.

The Barroso project in Portugal should have been the first large lithium mine in the EU, but the opening has been postponed several times, sometimes until a further date and sometimes indefinitely.

In 2021, the first temporary permit was issued after the preliminary report on the environmental impact. However, that’s as far as it went, because the issues of water pollution, energy consumption, and post-excavation and grinding activities had not been resolved. Furthermore, the mine is strongly opposed by the local populace and environmental protection associations.

Optimists believe that the mine could start working in 2023, since, at the beginning of this year, the Portuguese government approved it in principle. However, the municipalities in which the mines are supposed to open have announced the initiating of the procedure for the ban on excavations.

It was initially announced that the location features 10% of the world reserves, but the current projections are reduced to 1%. The estimated capacity is 27 million metric tons, and the company that wants to excavate in Portugal is Savannah Resources.

While the uncertainty is ongoing, the Portuguese government has announced that it will not rush to issue permits.

Several more lithium mines in the EU are planned, and the most famous example is in Germany, where there are efforts toward a project where lithium would be produced with the help of geothermal energy for the extraction of salt water rich with lithium from the Upper Rhine. The final product, lithium hydroxide, would then be produced through electrolysis. That lithium should have the zero carbon pollution point, however, in Germany, they want to avoid water pollution as well.

The entire project is designed as an isolated system where water would be fully cleaned and only then let back into the waterflow. This is a new approach for getting lithium from water. According to the initial estimates, it pollutes the environment far less than mines do.

Explorations, commenced in 2021, are in progress, and this year, the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources determined that the environmental impact of the planned excavation, considering their size, scope and intensity, could not be deemed significant. If everything goes as planned, the beginning of commercial exploitation could happen from 2025.

The French company Imerys has announced that, in 2028, it will begin excavations at the lithium site in the Massif Central, which should take 25 years. Since the second half of the 19th century, this location has featured a quarry that produces 30,000 metric tons of kaolinite a year for the production of tiles.

The company says that, with 34,000 metric tons of lithium hydroxide a year, around 700,000 electric vehicles could be equipped with lithium-ion batteries annually.

The project Cinovec is carried out by European Metals Holdings 100 kilometers away from Prague in the Czech Republic. The aim is to produce nearly 30,000 metric tons of lithium for batteries a year over a period of 25 years.

According to the feasibility study by European Metals from 2022, Cinovec has the potential to become the producer of the cheapest lithium from stone in the world. With the completion of the investment in April 2020, the project began its work program, but not the production.

The updated Preliminary Feasibility Study (PFS) for the project was completed in June 2019, when the preparation of the final feasibility study was commenced, but it is not yet finished. This location of this mine is close to car manufacturers, but also the giga battery factory belonging to Tesla.

European Lithium is developing the Wolfsberg project in Carinthia, 270 kilometers south of Vienna. This mine project plans to excavate 10,000 metric tons of lithium hydroxide a year.

According to the company, this will equip batteries for around 200,000 electric vehicles. They hope to achieve an operating rate of 800,000 metric tons a year, with a life cycle of the mine of over 10 years. The company expects to commence the production in 2025.

The Finnish company Keliber, which specializes in mining and chemicals for batteries, is currently running a project in western Finland with the aim of reaching the production of 15,000 metric tons of lithium hydroxide a year, beginning in 2025. The company also strives for sustainable production.

The lithium that they plan to excavate, they say, will have a lower carbon footprint than that of their competition.

That’s because the refinery is located 70 kilometers from the mine. More than a half of the electric energy in the Finnish national network is produced from renewable energy sources. As a result, the refining process will be more environmentally friendly.

In addition to said projects, there are several more projects in Europe which are in the development phase. In Serbia as well, the presence of lithium is being explored in several more locations.

As things stand at the moment, the production of lithium in Europe, that is, the EU, on a major scale is not to start before 2025.

The pressure of the industries and the big capital is likely to keep increasing and the increase in the price of lithium is also likely, as it is projected to grow several times in the coming decade.

Whether the EU manages to find a balance between mining projects and environmental standards or goes into the green transition with potential devastating effects in its or surrounding territory is to be seen soon. The EU will certainly need supply chains which are nearer to the continent, but also supply which does not come from China.

The European Green Deal from 2020 hinted that certain standards concerning the environment would be lowered, whereas with the REPowerEU plan, announced following Russia’s attack on Ukraine, the EC gave additional priority to switching to renewable sources within the efforts to quickly reduce the use of Russian fossil fuels.

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