JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – London-based Rio Tinto has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the government of Serbia to progress the development of a deposit containing one of the twenty-first century’s hottest commodities – lithium.
The MoU sets out how the Jadar project could be moved forward, with joint working groups to be established to move the project through the study and permitting phases.
The project is currently in the middle study stages, with Rio Tinto expected to make its final investment decision and start construction in 2020. Assuming that feasibility studies confirm viability and necessary approvals are obtained, first production will start in 2023, Rio Tinto reported on Monday.
Salt, uranium and borates division MD Simon Trott, who signed the MoU on behalf of Rio Tinto, said the agreement brought Serbia and Rio Tinto closer to becoming a leading source of global lithium and borate production.
Mining and Energy Minister Aleksandar Antić, who signed the MoU on behalf of Serbia, said the signing of the MoU would speed up the activities related to the process of opening a mine and the beginning of the exploitation of lithium.
“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. In that way, we will give a push to the economic growth of Serbia.”
Rio Tinto has already invested $90-million in the Jadar project and sees lithium as an important part of its growth portfolio.
In 2004, Rio Tinto’s geologists discovered a new lithium sodium borosilicate mineral in the Jadar basin and two years later, jadarite was officially confirmed as a new mineral. Jadarite contains lithium and borates and Serbia is the only known source of the mineral.
The company believes that the Jadar lithium-borate deposit is among the largest lithium deposits in the world. If developed, the Jadar project could supply over 10% of the world’s lithium demand. The fastest-growing application for the mineral was lithium batteries, with particularly strong demand from electric vehicles.