Serbia, The real plans of the Jadar project
Europe’s largest lithium mine
The Jadar lithium project is Europe’s largest lithium mine, with a supposed $2.4 billion fund from Rio Tinto. The said lithium mine could produce 1 million electric vehicle (EV) batteries. However, locals of Jadar Valley opposed the project, not willing to sacrifice their land. They don’t want to replace their sweet and juicy raspberries and abundant bees with batteries for electric vehicles. Besides, the damages that mining will create are irreparable.
Rio Tinto found a new type of mineral called jadarite, containing borates and lithium. Jadarite was discovered in Jadar, hence the name of the mineral, in 2004. According to the giant mining company, these materials play a key role in the green transition. Lithium is important in manufacturing EV batteries. Borates, on the other hand, are useful in making wind and solar projects.
The supposed Serbia Jadar Lithium Project is one of the planet’s biggest greenfield lithium projects. Jadar’s high-grade nature and extensive deposit provide the possibility of a mine that can supply lithium for EVs for several decades. The abundance of boron and lithium deposits can make Serbia a key world producer.
If the project pursues, the initial mine’s commercial production is anticipated no earlier than 2027. The yearly production would be 58,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate and 160,000 tonnes of boric acid (B2O3 units). The production of sodium sulphate1, on the other hand, will be 255,000 tonnes.
Lies emerged about the Jadar lithium project
Gornje Nedeljice locals had peace of mind when the government decided to revoke Rio Tinto’s licence for mine jadarite. In fact, Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic announced it herself.
However, not everyone is convinced, especially Marijana Petković, a local campaign group Ne Damo Jadar member. She said, “I want the western countries to have the green transition and to live like people in Jadar. But that doesn’t mean that we need to destroy our nature. We started to fight against the mine when they found out the company was lying to us for 14 years; when we found out how big the mine really is.”
There’s a prevailing scepticism about the cancellation of the Jadar lithium project. The government only nullified the project to end protests that could mess up the presidential and parliamentary elections (April 3). It could resume if there were reelection of the government.
“Once re-elected, we expect the SNS will maintain its pro-mining stance. The fact that the government has so far refused to consider a potential lithium mining ban in Serbia points in this direction. This gave environmental protests an anti-government element and proved to be a unifying force for the historically fragmented political opposition in Serbia,” said Capucine May, Verisk Maplecroft expert.
However, Rio Tinto repudiated that this wasn’t their intention. They said it was not their plan or didn’t fulfil any activities or actions to the project’s legal stature.
They say that what you don’t know won’t hurt you. But the truth will always find a way to reveal itself. Locals found out that Jadar Lithium Project won’t just take 20 hectares of land but 600 hectares! It’s almost the size of 10,000 tennis courts.
Eurasian Resources Group highly commends the publication of the Critical Raw Materials Act
The European Commission recently released the EU Critical Raw Materials Act aimed at achieving climate-neutrality by 2050 and securing Europe’s sustainable and resilient economic growth.
Eurasian Resources Group, a leading diversified natural resources group headquartered in Luxembourg, highly commends the publication of the Act.
Pursuing ‘metals diplomacy’ through EU trade agreements and the Global Gateway strategy has the potential to strengthen sustainability and the resilience of critical raw material supply chains.
While addressing perceived risks around these supply chains in light of expected significant demand and growth, it highlights their importance for achieving net zero.
The Act focuses on strategically important Critical Raw Minerals (CRMs) that display a high risk of supply shortage.
ERG is one of the world’s largest producers of cobalt and the Group supports the EU’s insight into battery metals and global supply chains.
With an increasing demand for EVs and energy storage, ERG encourage global supply chain diligence to ensure global access to green transition metals.
As a leading copper producer, ERG is also pleased to note that, in the 2023 CRM listing, the EU has justifiably listed this metal as a “strategic raw material”.
Copper plays a significant role in achieving net-zero, particularly in electrification and decarbonisation technologies. Due to electricity networks and electricity-related technologies requiring significant copper supplies, the demand for this material in grid lines will most likely more than double by 2040.
Benedikt Sobotka, CEO of Eurasian Resources Group and Co-Chair of the Global Battery Alliance, said:
“The Critical Raw Materials Act is a milestone initiative which demonstrates the EU’s commitment to shifting towards a more resilient battery raw material supply. At ERG, we recognise the crucial role of sustainable mining in the green transition and we welcome the diversification of existing supply chains outlined by the Act through new international strategic partnerships. The Critical Raw Materials Act should be a very positive step forward in this regard, as well as towards European mineral security; however, its success will depend on adequate funding and prompt action. The EU will need to develop a robust and clear financial, operational, and regulatory framework that focuses on production scale-up which is easily accessible for the industry”, Global Mining Review reports.
Rio Tinto has spent more than a million euros on land in Serbia at the proposed site of a lithium mine that was eventually cancelled a year ago
A BIRN investigation shows that Rio Tinto has spent more than a million euros on land in Serbia at the proposed site of a lithium mine that was eventually cancelled a year ago, while a redacted readout of a meeting with the EU makes clear the company’s fear of a national referendum on the issue.
Since mid-2022, the year Serbia’s government revoked licences for a $2.4 billion lithium mine, Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto has spent at least 1.2 million euros on land in the area that it hoped to exploit, BIRN can report, and is now offering financial aid to local firms in an apparent bid to win favour.
Faced with growing public opposition, the government called off the project in January last year, but critics speculated that the halt was only temporary, to avoid a voter backlash in elections that April.
But while Prime Minister Ana Brnabic stressed again in December that she sees no way back for the ‘Jadar’ project, the company itself says it has not “given up” and President Aleksandar Vucic is again mooting the possibility of a referendum. Opponents of the project face being beaten, he said on January 5.
“You never know – maybe they’ll have that referendum, maybe next or the year after that, you never know, just to fulfill a promise, so they can see how they will fare,” said Vucic, who as leader of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party is the most powerful political figure in the country.
A nationwide plebiscite, however, is precisely what Rio Tinto fears, according to a redacted readout – obtained by BIRN – of a meeting between company officials and the European Union delegation in Serbia on March 25 last year, two months after the project was officially cancelled.
Rio Tinto: ‘We haven’t given up’
With demand for electric vehicle batteries on the rise, Rio Tinto says the lithium mine in the area of Loznica, western Serbia, would be the biggest in Europe and make the company one of the top 10 lithium producers in the world.
The project has strong backing from the UK, Australia, United States, and the EU. The latter imports almost all of the lithium it uses but has ambitions to secure an entire supply chain of battery minerals and materials, with demand for lithium predicted to grow 18 times by 2030 and 60 times by 2050.
Serbia stands to benefit from some 2,100 construction jobs and an injection of roughly 200 million euros per year into the domestic supply chain, Rio says.
Environmentalists, however, fear huge damage to water and land in western Serbia, while some Serbs say they feel steamrollered by the powerful multinational mining giant.
Facing an election in April 2022, the government scrapped the project in the January, but Rio Tinto has not gone away.
Between June 2022 and January 2023, the company has paid some 1.2 million euros for 5.78 hectares of land via seven separate contracts with residents in the proposed mining site, BIRN found by analysing and cross-matching data from state cadastral records.
Then in January, Rio Tinto announced a programme of to support sustainable local development in the Loznica area via financial grants for local enterprises.
The company has not hidden its ambition to revive what chief executive Jakob Stausholm called in December an “amazing asset.”
“We need to figure out how to go about it,” Stausholm was quoted by Reuters as telling an investor briefing in Sydney. “The only thing I would say today is we haven’t given up.”
Asked about its continued land purchases, Rio Tinto told BIRN: “The purchase of the land is a continuation of the previously undertaken obligations of the Rio Sava company,” referring to its local subsidiary.
Pressed for clarification of these “obligations”, the company did not respond.
Regarding its support for local businesses, Rio Tinto said it was part of the company’s “commitment to the communities in which it operates” and has nothing to do with any potential referendum.
Rio Tinto reiterated that it still believes the Jadar project “has the potential to be a world-class operation that could support the development of other future industries in Serbia, acting as a flywheel for tens of thousands of new jobs for current and future generations, and the sustainable production of materials that are key to the energy transition.”
The environmental campaign group ‘Mars sa Drine’ [Get off the Drina], which opposes the Jadar project, said it had warned all along that the cancellation of the mine was a charade, but that its fate would ultimately be decided by the public.
“Rio Tinto buys people off with offers of cash, and now, in a genius marketing move, they act like a humanitarian organization that invests in local crafts,” Jovana Amidzic, a representative of the group, told BIRN. “Rio Tinto can stay on that land for 40 years, but there will be no mines.”
Nationwide referendum risks ‘more complicated dynamic’
Reviving the project without some kind of referendum risks a major public backlash against Vucic’s Progressives.
At a meeting with the EU delegation in Serbia on March 25 last year, Rio Tinto representatives appeared to be open to a local poll among villagers in the affected area, but not necessarily a wider plebiscite.
“A referendum could indicate the will of the inhabitants of the 12 villages of the area of Loznica, who according to the company would be the key players in the execution of the project, and those who would benefit the most,” a redacted summary of the meeting reads. “A local referendum would thus favour the company.”
“A nationwide referendum including Belgrade, where the most negativity comes from, could produce a more complicated dynamic,” the document adds.
BIRN received the summary from an EU citizen who obtained it from the European Commission on the basis of a Freedom of Information request. BIRN obtained another copy of the document from another EU citizen, who had also submitted an FOI to the Commission, but in the second document the reference to Rio Tinto’s misgivings about a national referendum was blacked out.
The Commission shortly told BIRN that it was “a clerical error”.
In its response for this story, Rio Tinto did not comment directly on the possibility of a referendum, saying it was a matter for “the competent authorities” in Serbia.
Amidzic of Mars sa Drine said that Rio Tinto’s fear of a national referendum only underscored the strength of public resistance, even though the country’s president and government were firmly behind the mine.
“Even with all the machinery of Vucic’s rule over the media, the people’s resistance is clear to them,” Amidzic said, adding that regardless of whether the project is put to a referendum, it is already in violation of the law.
“There are legal processes that have not been followed, and therefore we can see that this project cannot be realised according to legal regulations because it is catastrophic in terms of its impact on biodiversity, people’s health, water, air and land”.
Project aborted, but approval pending
Calling off the project on January 20, 2022, Serbia’s government terminated a decree concerning the spatial plan of the special purpose area for the Jadar project and, five days later, annulled a decision by the Ministry of Environmental Protection regarding the environmental impact study.
“All administrative acts related to Rio Tinto, i.e. Rio Sava, all permits, decisions, and everything else has been annulled,” Brnabic declared in the wake of mass protests. “With this, as far as the Jadar and Rio Tinto project is concerned, everything is over.”
However, Rio Tinto’s request for the approval of the exploitation field, submitted on January 6, 2021, is still pending, Ministry of Mining confirmed to Mars sa Drine organization.
BIRN asked the Ministry of Mining why the request is still officially under consideration if the project has already been aborted, but did not receive a reply by the time of publication.
In November last year, the government also signed declarations of intent with Slovakian battery maker InoBat to build an electric vehicle battery factory in Serbia, Reuters reported. Rio Tinto is an investor in InoBat.
Activists and the opposition say this all points to a likely revival of the Jadar project.
Meanwhile, a proposal to ban the mining of lithium and boron in Serbia, signed by more than 38,000 people and submitted to parliament last year, has still to come before the competent committee of ministry, despite rules that it should do so within 30 days.
Radomir Lazovic, an MP of the opposition Green-Left Coalition, said the so-called ‘People’s Initiative’ was being kept from lawmakers on someone’s orders.
“At every session and at every opportunity I asked what’s happening with the People’s Initiative,” Lazovic told BIRN.
“I managed to get answers from the Ministry of State Administration and Local Self-Government, and now the answer has arrived from the Committee for Constitutional Affairs and Legislation that this document never reached them, which can only mean one thing – that someone deliberately removed it from the regular procedure.”
BIRN sent inquiries to the Serbian president’s office and the Serbian government about the Rio Tinto lithium project, but received no response by the time of publication, Balkan Insight writes.
A new grievance mechanism for Chinese overseas mining needs to be free to use
As the world transitions to more renewable forms of energy, surging demand for critical minerals such as cobalt, nickel, aluminium and lithium could bring significant risk to communities affected by mining and mineral processing.
Yet many such communities have no channels available to raise concerns or seek redress. This leaves the door open for abuses and greenwashing. These not only harm affected communities but are bad for companies managing environmental and social risks in their investment and supply chains. They are also bad for investors, buyers and end users seeking to avoid the pitfalls caused by unethical operations.
China is a vital node for global supply chains in electric vehicle batteries, solar photovoltaic equipment, and other mineral-intensive technologies necessary for a green transition. Recent developments in China suggest stronger accountability to local communities may be coming.
In November 2022, the Responsible Critical Mineral Initiative (RCI; formerly the Responsible Cobalt Initiative) and the China Chamber of Commerce of Metals, Minerals and Chemicals Importers and Exporters (CCCMC) announced that they are creating a new accountability mechanism for the mining sector.
Covering the value chains of all minerals, it will be the first accountability mechanism established by a Chinese industry association allowing communities to raise concerns about the social and environmental impacts of an overseas mining project. If designed and implemented well, it will be a significant step toward closing the “accountability gap”.
The role of accountability mechanisms
Accessible, fair and effective accountability mechanisms provide an important forum for affected people to express concerns and address grievances.
We have worked with many communities affected by mining who have successfully leveraged such mechanisms. These include a community in Guinea that, after being evicted at gunpoint to make way for a gold mine owned by a South African firm, filed a complaint to the accountability mechanism for projects supported by the International Finance Corporation (IFC).
They ultimately secured agreements with the company to improve access to basic facilities at the resettlement site, including water and schooling, and received increased compensation, among other outcomes.
We also worked with herders in Mongolia who filed complaints to IFC’s mechanism regarding gold and copper mines that had depleted water resources and disrupted pasture lands. They secured commitments from the mining company and local government to resolve key issues.
Accountability mechanisms also create channels for investors and corporate executives to hear about environmental and social risks directly from local communities, who are well-placed to know if a project is not complying with environmental and social safeguards.
This gives companies the opportunity to address issues before they escalate, making accountability mechanisms a crucial component of a company’s risk management framework.
The accountability gap
Many mining and mineral-processing projects that are crucial to the energy transition unfortunately cause social and environmental harms.
These include deforestation, pollution and water scarcity, labour standards violations and displacement of local communities. Companies linked to such damages through their supply chains are under increasing scrutiny.
For example, Tesla, Apple, Google, Dell and Microsoft were all sued over alleged forced child labour in mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo producing cobalt for use in their products. Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt, a major Chinese firm, was named as one of the suppliers.
CCCMC has established various standards and guidelines since 2014, to help companies address the social and environmental risks in their overseas mining and mineral operations.
It also launched the Responsible Cobalt Initiative in 2016 – the precursor to the Responsible Critical Mineral Initiative – which developed a due diligence standard for the cobalt supply chain in 2018 (revised in 2021).
However, without mechanisms to hold companies accountable, implementation of these voluntary guidelines has been limited. With the new initiative backed by CCCMC and RCI, that could be changing.
Will the new accountability mechanism work?
In December 2022, RCI and the CCCMC sought public input on the proposed accountability mechanism. Its draft policy states that communities impacted by mining-sector activities can file complaints alleging that companies did not adhere to “recognised codes for responsible business conduct”.
These codes include CCCMC’s Guidelines for Social Responsibility in Outbound Mining Investments, the Chinese Due Diligence Guidelines for the Mineral Supply Chain, and the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, among others.
The mechanism will offer a mediated dialogue process for communities and companies to negotiate redress for environmental and social impacts.
Depending on the nature of the case, the process also includes fact-finding by independent experts to support the resolution of disputes. Aspects of the case process will be documented publicly.
Currently, it is not clear exactly which companies the mechanism will apply to, but it is likely to be particularly relevant to members of RCI and CCCMC.
RCI members include Chinese mining companies, refineries and other companies along the critical minerals value chains. They also include international end users such as automotive manufacturers and tech companies.
(Huayou Cobalt and Jiana Energy – Chinese suppliers of cobalt products and battery materials – as well as BMW and Dell, were on the board of the Responsible Cobalt Initiative when it was first established.)
Many Chinese mining companies are CCCMC members. Increasing these companies’ accountability to affected communities would be a significant step toward ensuring a just transition, but only if designed and implemented well.
What constitutes an effective accountability mechanism is well established. United Nations guidelines state it must be accessible, legitimate, predictable, transparent, equitable, rights-based and a source of continuous learning for companies and investors. In practice, this means it needs to provide communities with a safe and fair process for achieving redress for environmental and social harm.
The mechanism proposed by the RCI and the CCCMC has important strengths to this end, including provisions regarding the right to representation, the commitment to rights-based agreements, confidentiality and the prohibition of coercion and retaliation.
However, some questions about its effectiveness remain. For one, there should be further clarification as to which corporate actors are governed by it so that communities can better predict whether it is a relevant avenue for justice.
Right now, it is challenging to find a list of current RCI and CCCMC members. Moreover, the mechanism needs to demonstrate how it is independent from the companies who could be parties in a complaint, and should disclose the makeup of the committee that processes complaints.
There are two additional steps the mechanism should take to improve accessibility for all stakeholders, including communities who often face financial limitations, language or technical barriers, logistical issues and reprisals.
First, strengthen the commitment to preventing and responding to reprisals against community complainants by building in concrete protection measures. Second, establish an adequate budget for the functioning of the mechanism so that community applicants do not pay for the case process. Establishing such budgets is common practice in existing accountability mechanisms.
Toward greater accountability for Chinese overseas projects
RCI and CCCMC’s proposed mechanism is an important part of a larger move toward accountability for Chinese overseas investments.
In June 2022, the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission (CBIRC) published Green Finance Guidelines that require Chinese banks and insurers to set up their own accountability mechanisms to hear and address concerns from impacted communities overseas. This means policy banks, such as the China Development Bank and the Export–Import Bank of China, and commercial banks, like the Bank of China and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, need to set up accountability channels to hear from the people they impact. It remains unclear, however, when and how this requirement will be implemented by each financial institution.
For over a decade, Chinese state institutions and industry groups have issued guidance to companies and banks on how to improve overseas environmental, social and governance performance, but the lack of strong implementation frameworks and accountability mechanisms has limited their impact.
The move towards establishing such a mechanism in the critical minerals sector represents an important first step. It could inform the development of mechanisms for other sectors, especially as we have yet to see any public action by Chinese banks or insurers to set up their own mechanisms.
The mining sector accountability mechanism is expected to be released in the first half of this year. As an industry-led initiative, it will only be legitimate if communities determine it safe and worthwhile to use.
At a minimum, this will require the process to be free for community complainants, the people managing the cases to be independent from company respondents, and safeguards be put in place to prevent and respond to retaliation.
If designed and implemented with the rights of impacted communities in mind, the new mechanism could be positive for communities, companies and the environment, setting an example for more accountability mechanisms for Chinese overseas investment.
If the mechanism fails to meet these expectations, the accountability gap will persist, and both communities and companies will continue to pay the price, China Dialogue writes.
Europe revives mining to reduce dependence on the import of key raw materials, supply from Serbia as competitive choice
European officials expect that the Law on Critical Raw Materials, which was presented last week, significantly improve the capacity of the extraction block, processing and recycling of key metals, such as lithium. The law aims to reduce dependence on third countries, while China currently dominates in the supply chain of numerous items on the European list of strategic metals.
The EU is also in the race with the United States, which already invest large funds in capacity to produce critical metals under the auspices of the Law on Defense Production and Inflation Reduction Act.
Europe may, however, has provided himself to himself through simplifying the procedures for issuing permits for projects, a painstaking process, which is often stretched for years before the first shovel hits the ground.
The law covers a list of critical minerals in the EU, with a special focus on battery metals, such as lithium, nickel, cobalt and manganese.
Copper is on the list as a driver of everything electricity, while aluminum and zinc are not, which could be a striking omission given the recent reduction of European production capacities.
While environmental organizations are concerned about Brussels plans to increase the exploitation of critical raw materials, the advocates of this approach say that it is necessary to achieve the green goals of the block.
The European Union wants to diversify the supply of critical raw materials by China and facilitate the use of mineral reserves needed to build green technologies, such as wind turbines and solar panels.
However, local population and environmental activists warn that reducing bureaucracy for projects of exploitation and biodiversity, pointing out that mining can cause serious water and soil pollution and lead to biodiversity forests.
This conflict between European appetite for critical raw materials and its ambitions to protect the continent – local protests are underway against new mining projects in Portugal, Germany, Sweden and Spain, which will only intensify after the adoption of new acceleration legislation Mining activities.
The draft rules suggest that the European Commission could be able to mark strategic plans of public interest, which would prioritize them in the event of a conflict with other EU legislation, for example with the law on conservation of species.
The reason for this is a fear that the EU cannot increase its reserves of key minerals without mitigating strict environmental requirements, which makes the opening of new mines represents a large bureaucratic headache.
Environmental ecologists claim that EU protection rules are necessary and to destroy local biodiversity in search of materials that would become climatic neutral either counterproductive.
Getting a green light for a new mining project in Europe can take up to 15 years – something that the EU wants to improve in its critical raw material law.
According to the draft, the Commission will allow mining projects that are marked as strategic to receive short terms of two years for permits, with the aim of reducing its dependence on imports.
Although the EU cannot deliver all the raw materials they need, its most important lithium projects, for example, could satisfy 25 to 35 percent of European demand by the end of the decade. Currently, about 78 percent of Lithium in the Block comes from Chile.
Mining companies have long claimed that the issuance of licenses can only be accelerated if the EU agrees to alleviate some ecological rules, such as zero emissions into water, which is difficult to perform.
Mining projects in protected areas, although allowed, also must also undergo an additional impact assessment to show that it will not damage the site integrity.
Treatment of mining activities as projects from primarily public interest would solve a number of similar issues.
Since most well-known reserves of critical raw materials in the block is in protected areas or near them, the EU will have to concesses in nature protection if they want to exploit them, leaders say in the mining industry.
Green groups fought for long anti-expansion of mining in Europe, by favoring efforts to reduce consumption and sources of raw materials in other ways, including recycling and developing alternative materials.
In the light of the new plan of Brussels, they now call for the EU law on nature. However, they fear that the focus of law will increase the offer of raw materials at all costs, not limiting the impact of mining on the environment.
Non-governmental organizations and experts warn that the Commission shoots themselves in the leg if they ignore environmental concerns because protests against new mining projects could potentially disrupt EU goals.
Serbian “critical raw materials”
The demand for rare natural metals for wind turbines is expected to grow four and a half to 2030. Demand for lithium, the key battery element in electrical vehicles and devices will increase 11 times to 2030 and 57 times until 2050, according to the assessments of the Commission. However, only a small part comes from the EU mine.
The largest estimated lithium sites in Europe are in Germany, Czech and Serbia. Legs in Germany are located in large depths and require new extraction technologies that, among other things, can cause earthquakes, and whose environmental and economic sustainability is not yet sufficiently explored.
In 2021, Serbia has begun negotiations on Chapter 15, concerning energy, which implies the implementation of the relevant legal achievements of the European Union, the use of energy protection, the use of renewable energy sources and protection of competition to Serbia.
It remains to be seen whether the new European Regulation will re-open the issue of the controversial project Lithium Jadar.
Although neither new law or accompanying documents mention Serbia, increased cooperation with strategic partners around the world has been announced and it seems that Serbia will be an important point in future plans of European critical raw material mines.
Also, in Serbia, there are a borough bay, natural salts containing pine and are mainly used to produce glass, but also vital for plant growth, so they are in fertilizers.
In addition, they use for insulating homes and in car safety components such as airbags. Currently, the EU gets a huge majority, 98 percent, its borants from Turkey.
On the other hand, the Serbian exploitation mining company Belkanhan could become a primary supplier of EU graphite, which is also on the list of critical materials. It is used in pencils, batteries, steel furnaces, and can be converted into artificial diamonds.
BELKALHAN mine is based on a high quality graphite, with 4 million tons of reserves confirmed at only 25 percent of the project location. The mine is marked as a mineral deposit from national interest in the EU.
Potentially a joint venture partnership and investments will enable Belkalhan to integrate the graphite-based product chain for numerous lithium-ion batteries for electrical vehicles, fuel cells, graphene and nanomaterials, heat management in consumer electronics and smart consumer electronics and smart products buildings.
Europe, Mining key minerals without destroying nature
For decades, the environmental and human cost of mining minerals like lithium and cobalt has largely been hidden from Europe’s view. That’s about to change.
As the EU looks to diversify its supply of critical raw materials away from China, it wants to make it easier to tap into domestic reserves of the minerals it needs to build green technology like wind turbines and solar panels.
But locals and green campaigners warn that slashing red tape for extraction projects risks taking a wrecking ball to decades of work to preserve nature and biodiversity, pointing out that mining can cause serious water and soil pollution and lead to deforestation and biodiversity loss.
Mining that so-called “white gold” would involve digging up a protected nature reserve located on a migratory route for birds and destroying “something that took millions of years to create,” said Philippe Spetz, a 69-year-old pensioner who lives in Tréguennec. “We will never get nature back,” he warned.
No company has applied to extract the resource yet. At the time, Bérangère Abba, who was then France’s junior minister for biodiversity, promised to “strike a balance” between protecting nature and mineral extraction. But locals and green groups worry the scales won’t tip in their favor.
This clash between Europe’s appetite for critical raw materials and its nature protection ambitions — already playing out across the Continent, with local protests against new mining projects in Portugal, Germany, Sweden and Spain — is only set to intensify after Brussels next week sets out new legislation to accelerate mining activities.
An undated draft of the rules, obtained by POLITICO, suggests the European Commission may allow strategic mining plans to be designated as so-called projects of overriding public interest, which would give them priority in the event of conflicts with other EU legislation, for example with species conservation law.
That echoes calls from industry groups, backed by liberal and conservative lawmakers, who argue that Europe can’t boost its supplies of key minerals without softening stringent environmental requirements that make opening new mines a major bureaucratic headache.
“I think that the way that we mine in Europe is probably… one of the best ones in the world. But we don’t get permitted to do mining,” said Mikael Staffas, CEO and president of Swedish mining firm Boliden. He added that Europe “happily imports metals from other parts of the world” that mine with far lower environmental standards.
But environmentalists and indigenous groups argue that the EU’s nature protection rules are a necessary safeguard, and that destroying local biodiversity in a quest to secure materials to become climate neutral would be counterproductive.
“We’re talking about this green transition. For me, it’s not green, it is black, because it’s going to destroy the rest of the nature that we have left,” said Matti Blind Berg, who heads the National Confederation of the Swedish Sami.
His community in the northern town of Kiruna has been fighting the expansion of the world’s largest iron-ore mine, which he argues has displaced locals and threatens their ability to herd reindeer.
Getting the green light for a new mining project in Europe can take up to 15 years — something the EU wants to fix in its Critical Raw Materials Act.
According to the draft, the Commission will allow mining projects designated as strategic to benefit from permitting deadlines of two years, with the aim of putting the bloc on track to lessen its dependency on imports more quickly.
While the EU can’t supply all of the raw materials it needs, its most important lithium projects, for example, could satisfy 25 percent to 35 percent of Europe’s demand by the end of the decade, according to Michael Schmidt, a research associate at the German Mineral Resources Agency. Currently, some 78 percent of the bloc’s lithium comes from Chile.
Mining companies have long argued that permitting can only be sped up if the EU also agrees to relax some environmental rules.
The EU’s water laws, for example, require companies to pass “very high thresholds,” such as “zero emissions to water,” which is “quite difficult to do,” said Kerstin Brinnen, legal counsel at LKAB, a government-owned Swedish mining company.
Mining projects in protected areas, while allowed, also need to undergo an additional impact assessment to show they won’t harm the integrity of the site.
The industry has taken steps to minimize its environmental impact and compensate for damage to biodiversity, said Brinnen. But despite those efforts, “some kind of impact on the surrounding” area is “unavoidable.”
Treating mining activities as projects of overriding public interest would solve a number of those issues, she said. Industry bodies Eurometaux and Euromines have called for similar measures.
Because a majority of the bloc’s known reserves of critical raw materials are located in or near protected areas, the EU will have to make concessions to nature protection if it wants to exploit them, industry leaders say.
“Mining cannot be moved,” said Boliden CEO Staffas. “So unless you’re willing to kind of accept that, then the whole Critical Raw Materials Act will not really make any difference” because it won’t in fact make it any easier to start new mining projects.
That argument is getting traction among some liberal and conservative lawmakers in the European Parliament.
“We keep expanding protected areas, and we can’t afford that anymore right now,” said Hildegard Bentele, an MEP with the conservative European People’s Party.
Speaking during a plenary debate last month, MEP Emma Wiesner of the Renew Europe group said: “We can’t on the one hand say we want more raw materials and minerals. And then on the other hand, go regulate so it’s impossible to open a new mine in Europe”, Politico writes.
Greenland, Eclipse Metals signs research MoU to help create economic benefit
Eclipse Metals Ltd has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Minerals, Materials and Society Program at the University of Delaware, USA as it looks to ensure regional sustainable development and diversification of the economy around its Ivigtût Project in Southwest Greenland.
The partnership will work collaboratively to research potential avenues for regional economic development of the Ivigtût project areas, which will be supported by funding from the US government’s National Science Foundation.
The aim is to create economic benefit within the local community.
“We are thrilled to collaborate with the University of Delaware on research to look at areas for potential economic redevelopment in Greenland,” Eclipse Metals executive chairman Carl Popal said.
“Our Ivigtût project, which has a historic mining life extending over 120 years, is a prime example of an opportunity for redevelopment and we hope this research will provide an insight into how we can do this to the benefit of Greenland and the local communities as well as Eclipse and our shareholders.”
Larger project redevelopment
The MoU fits into EPM’s larger project to redevelop legacy energy and mineral sites in the Arctic, for a just and sustainable transition that recognises greater access to the region due to changing climate.
The university will be provided with access to EPM’s project data and research. It will also be able to engage with stakeholders to discuss potential commercial development of all resources in the area.
It is hoped the outcome will provide a framework for Social Impact Assessment (SIA), a document that is submitted in stages to the Greenlandic mining authority (MLSA) as part of an application for a mining license.
Several research projects underway
Further to its work with the university, the scoping phase of the social and environmental impact assessments, conducted by Eclipse and Danish consultancy COWI, are now almost finished and will be submitted to the MLSA in the coming weeks.
“This collaboration with the University of Delaware is in addition to collaborative research programs that are already underway with the University of St Andrews, UK and the Natural History Museum at the University of Oslo, Norway, which is focused on rare earth elements and green technology metals,” Popal said.
“There is plenty of scope for development in Greenland and we are encouraged to see this renewed attention in the arctic region as we look towards expanding its potential for strategic mineral and economic development.”
Eclipse is busy at the moment, having recently completed its maiden percussion drilling and trench sampling program at Ivigtût. This includes the Grønnedal carbonatite complex, with laboratory results from this work expected during Q2, Pro Active Investors writes.
Europe, Cornwall set for lithium mining boom
Forecasts suggest the UK will require around 80,000 tons of lithium a year by 2030, but almost 40 percent of that could come from under Cornwall.
The second great Cornish metals rush has begun.
Two-and-a-half decades after the closure of its last tin mine, the mineral-rich county could be on the verge of becoming a global player in the undersupplied metals market again.
This time, it’s not just tin which will be mined. As well as copper and tungsten, Cornwall is hoping to become Europe’s major provider of lithium, the metal used in batteries that power technology products from phones to electric cars.
By 2030, it is expected that Cornwall will be producing enough lithium to provide more than a third of the UK’s estimated requirement, just in time for the planned end of fossil-fuel vehicle production.
Five companies are leading the charge on the peninsular. One of them is Cornish Lithium, which by 2026 hopes to begin extracting around 10,000 tons of the metal each year.
“Back in the 19th century, miners started encountering very, very hot water coming into the mine,” says Cornish Lithium’s founder, Jeremy Wrathall. “It was salty and they didn’t know why because it was so far from the sea, right in the middle of Cornwall.
“They had it analysed by Professor William Miller of Kings’ College London in 1864, and he was the first to discover lithium in Cornwall. So, it’s been down there for a long time.”
Mr Wrathall, who gained more than 30 years of experience in the mining finance industry before launching his own exploration company, is confident that Cornish Lithium’s two sites in the county will play a major role in helping to make the UK a critical metals powerhouse.
“Every ton that we can produce in Cornwall is a ton less the UK has to import and a ton less associated carbon,” he said. “If[it’s coming in from China, that lithium is made with fossil fuels and you’re shipping it all the way over the ocean with fossil fuels.”
In total, the Government forecasts that the UK will require around 80,000 tons of lithium a year by 2030, but almost 40 per cent of that could be coming up from up to 2,000m under Cornwall.
British Lithium is hoping to produce 21,000 tonnes a year using sustainable, chemical-free, mining to produce its battery grade lithium carbonate from the mica in Cornish granite.
“We are delighted with the support we’re getting from local, national and international stakeholders and are feeling very positive about 2023 and all that lies ahead,” says British Lithium’s chief executive, Andrew Smith, who aims to begin production toward the end of 2025 at the company’s site at Stenalees, near St Austell.
While lithium production may be hitting the headlines, Cornwall is, once again, set to become a world player in tin.
The existence of tin in Britain can be traced back to 2000BC, but mining for the metal in Cornwall did not begin until around 1800BC. The county soon became an important producer of tin, which forms bronze when mixed with copper.
During the Industrial Revolution, the county established itself as a global player in the industry and remained so for much of the 20th century. It was not until 1998 that the final mine in Cornwall closed.
Cornish Tin is bringing mining back to the Great Wheal Vor for the first time in 150 years. The project involves 26 former tin and copper producing mines in Breage.
In 1929, the mining historian AK Hamilton Jenkin described the mines as “probably the richest tin mine which has ever been worked in the world”, and Cornish Tin’s chief executive, Sally Norcross-Webb, is planning to make the site globally significant once again.
“This is very high-grade tin with historic production grades of over 5.5 per cent tin,” she says. “Even assuming a current production grade of only 2 per cent tin this would be one of the top three tin mines by grade in the world today,” adding that the group is using “the best available technologies” as part of a commitment to green mining.
With tin used in the soldering of circuit boards in almost every tech product around, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US has predicted a fourfold increase in demand for the metal by 2040 as the electric vehicle and energy storage revolution really takes hold.
“We will be producing clean tin and provide a domestic supply for UK industry of a critical mineral,” Ms Norcross-Webb says.
“When we’re in full production we will employ between 150 and 200 people, and for every direct job in the mining sector there are four indirect jobs created,” she adds.
It is forecast that the mining industry will bring up to 10,000 new jobs into Cornwall where salaries are lower than the UK average and a high proportion of people work in the seasonal tourism industry.
Cornish mining bosses demand Government plays its part in critical metals revolution
Mining bosses have called on the Government to get behind the metals rush in Cornwall with a “solid plan” to ensure the entire UK benefits from the millions of tonnes of lithium and tin set to be produced in the county.
The companies behind the raft of mining projects have claimed they will be forced to export their production overseas unless the Government invests in electric vehicle gigafactories and other tech production.
Jeremy Wrathall, chief executive and founder of Cornish Lithium, told: “We have the lithium need for electric vehicle batteries right here in Cornwall. We have the resources to supply gigafactories in the UK. We just need the gigafactories to supply it to.”
President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act committed billions of dollars to the production and sourcing of critical metals to reduce the US’s reliance on imports from China. The EU has a critical mineral strategy and President Biden and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen met earlier this month to agree a deal to co-ordinate their supply of vital metals.
“We will still produce the lithium and sell it to Europe if we’re unable to sell it here, but we want to play a big role in helping the UK reduce its reliance on imports. We need the Government to invest and help us the UK meet the challenge of climate change,” said Mr Wrathall.
Sally Norcross-Webb, chief executive of Cornish Tin, said: “We need real government support. Actions, not words, to facilitate the setting up of battery storage, vehicle manufacture, all the supply chain businesses that are needed to make Cornwall a real force for the future and a county that can actively participate in and make successful the next industrial revolution.” The Government was contacted for comment.
Dennis Rowland, the project manager at Cornwall Resources, said: “People can earn very well, much higher than the average salary. You hire local, train local and mining will bring a boost to Cornwall.”
Cornwall Resources operates the Redmoor tin-tungsten-copper project, based in Kelly Bray, close to the Devon border.
The company is currently seeking funding for a feasibility study for the project which will include further exploration drilling and studies, and culminate in an economic model justifying the establishment of a new, underground metal mine in Cornwall.
“The scoping study that we produced in 2020 showed there are globally significant levels of metal,” says Mr Rowland.
That last operating mine to close in Cornwall was in South Crofty near Redruth, but its demise did not last long.
Canadian-based Cornish Metals, one of the largest mining companies operating in the county, is hoping it can return to full production in 2026 and that the fourth-largest tin deposit in the world could produce up to 5,000 tonnes of the metal a year.
As well as a plentiful supply of tin, the site also offers potential for the mining of copper, lithium, tungsten, zinc and silver.
While there has been some local opposition to the various projects, the companies claim the overwhelming support of Cornish residents.
The county is well known for its great views but these businesses believe that what lies beneath its hills can provide a much-needed economic boost for locals too, iNews writes.
EU outlines new Critical Raw Minerals Act
The European Commission has announced the Critical Raw Minerals Act as the bloc competes in the green energy transition.
The European Commission (EC) has outlined plans for how the EU will compete in the development of new technologies necessary for the green transition against the US and China.
The Critical Raw Minerals Act, proposed by the European Commission on Thursday, seeks to reduce the EU’s dependence on raw minerals imported from beyond the EU. Along with the Net Zero Industry Act, it forms a part of the EU’s Green Deal Industrial Plan.
The region aims to not only lead the way in cutting emissions but also in producing the necessary technology to do so.
The EU executive set new targets for the bloc, stating that 10% of the raw critical material consumed by EU members, such as lithium and cobalt, should be mined in the region.
Additionally, 15% of its needs should be met by recycled sources and 40% of all critical miners used ought to be processed within the EU.
The EC has announced plans for no more than 65% of any key raw material to come from any single country as it looks to diversify its supply of minerals. China currently processes 90% of rare earth metals and 60% of lithium.
The EU states that recent global events such as “Covid-19 related supply disruptions, the chips shortage and the energy crisis following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine” demonstrate the need to diversify of raw earth mineral sources.
President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement: “raw materials are vital for manufacturing key technologies for our twin transition, like wind power generation, hydrogen storage or batteries […] it’s in our mutual interest to ramp up production in a sustainable manner and at the same time ensure the highest level of diversification of supply chains for our European businesses.”
According to EU predictions, demand for lithium in the region is expected increase 12-fold by the year 2030.
The EC has announced that a Critical Raw Minerals Board will be set up, composed of member states and the commission, which will oversee the implementation of measures which are set out in the act.
The news comes shortly after the EC announced plans to triple renewables production by 2030, in a series of measures to increase the competitiveness of Europe’s net-zero energy industry, Power Technology writes.
Kazakhstan and Canada Explore Cooperation Prospects in Mining and Metallurgy
Nearly 150 delegates participated in the forum, including Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Almas Aidarov, representatives of government and business associations, as well as top managers of leading Canadian companies, such as Hatch, Cameco Corporation, B2Gold, Arras Minerals, Nutrien, Teck Resources Limited, Ion Energy, among others.
The trade turnover between Kazakhstan and Canada in 2022 reached $838.6 million, which is 69.2 percent higher compared to the same period last year. Canada has invested $2.7 billion in the Kazakh economy since 2011.
Aidarov said in his speech that Kazakhstan values long-term cooperation with Canada, built on strong bonds of friendship, shared values, and support, emphasizing that the country is Canada’s largest trade and investment partner in Central Asia.
Rocco Rossi, President of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, noted the significant potential for developing bilateral relations and emphasized that large Canadian companies are interested in implementing investment projects in Kazakhstan.
Kazakh Invest Deputy Chairman Zhandos Temirgali stressed several similarities between Kazakhstan and Canada, including the climate, a multicultural society, and the structure of the respective economies. He also outlined the investment opportunities in Kazakhstan and state support measures.
“The pool of joint projects with the Canadian side consists of 11 projects worth $1.4 billion in mining, metallurgy, energy, agriculture, and engineering industries. There is a huge potential for expanding cooperation in developing strategic mineral deposits necessary for creating high-tech industries”, said Temirgali.
The Canadian business leaders commended the potential of Kazakhstan’s mining industry, noting the country’s importance as an investment partner in the region.
The sides signed several bilateral documents, including memorandums between Kazakhmys corporation and First Quantum for geological exploration projects in Kazakhstan, and with Bureau Veritas to create an international geochemical laboratory in Kazakhstan, Astana Times reports.