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.
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.
Politicians in Serbia are lobbying for Rio Tinto which is accused of corruption
“If we link that news to the fact that the politicians in power are lobbying so much for one Rio Tinto project after numerous independent experts declared that lithium mining will ecologically destroy Serbia, their motives seem very suspicious,” Manojlovic says for Danas daily.
He recalls that, before the elections, certain politicians in power said that they were done with Rio Tinto and that lithium mining was a finished story.
“They agreed to meet the demands of the people, have changed the relevant regulation and now they are starting to lobby for this company again.
At the same time, we hear that Rio Tinto settled with the American Securities Commission (SEC) to pay a fine of 15 million dollars, after an investigation into bribery in which a consultant from Guinea was also involved,” Manojlovic adds.
To remind, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced charges against global mining and metals company, Rio Tinto plc, for violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) arising out of a bribery scheme involving a consultant in Guinea.
The company has agreed to pay a $15 million civil penalty to settle the SEC’s charges.
The SEC’s order finds that, in July 2011, Rio Tinto hired a French investment banker and close friend of a former senior Guinean government official as a consultant to help the company retain its mining rights in the Simandou mountain region in Guinea.
The consultant began working on behalf of Rio Tinto without a written agreement defining the scope of his services or deliverables. Eventually the mining rights were retained, and the consultant was paid $10.5 million for his services, which Rio Tinto never verified.
The SEC’s investigation uncovered that the consultant, acting as Rio Tinto’s agent, offered and attempted to make an improper payment of at least $822,000 to a Guinean government official in connection with the consultant’s efforts to help Rio Tinto retain its mining rights, Serbian Monitor reports.
Serbia, Jadar is a project that will have to do with the modern economy
The United States Ambassador to Serbia, Christopher Hill, said that Rio Tinto is not just an ordinary mining project because it will have connections with the modern economy and said that he is trying to cooperate with the Government of Serbia on this issue and that the US is trying to support Rio Tinto, which is partly although not entirely an American company.
I think it’s important for Rio Tinto that people understand that this is not just a mining project. This is not just a project where something is taken out of the ground and exported. This is a project that will have to do with the modern economy.
In the end, the lithium extracted from the ground will be used for the production of batteries that will be installed in electric vehicles, said Hill in an interview with the portal Glas Šumadije.
He said that he is trying to cooperate with the Government of Serbia on this issue, and that the US should come to support Rio Tinto, which is partly, although not entirely, an American company.
I think it’s very important that everyone involved in this project has to respect the environment, and that’s the number one rule, Hill said.
The ambassador pointed out that “we should make an effort to point out to citizens the need for this project to connect them with the green agenda, the green economy, because that’s where they belong”.
Hill assessed that it is a very complex issue that should be dealt with by the people living in this area.
I’m sure everything will be fine if everyone works together and keeps the needs in mind in the future, Hill concluded, Danas reports.
Serbia: Starting in June 2022, Rio Tinto bought land worth at least 1.2 million euros in the vicinity of Loznica
Starting in June 2022, Rio Tinto bought land worth at least 1.2 million euros in the vicinity of Loznica, despite the fact that the Government of Serbia suspended the company’s lithium mining project “Jadar”, the Balkan Research Network (BIRN) announced.
BIRN also obtained a document from the company’s meeting with the Delegation of the European Union, in which, among other things, it is stated that Rio Tinto looks favorably on the local, and fears a potential national referendum on the “Jadar” project that was supposed to be carried out. in the vicinity of Lozica.
After a series of protests by environmental activists across the country and blockades of bridges and roads, the Government of Serbia, led by Ana Brnabić, stopped the “Jadar” project on January 20 last year and canceled all documents with the company Rio Tinto.
However, part of the public was not convinced that the project was completely suspended, but pointed out that it was only “frozen” until more favorable socio-political circumstances, reports Beta.
BIRN research shows that the mining corporation has definitely not “put an end” to the project. Only from June 2022 until today, the company has purchased at least 5.78 hectares of land in the vicinity of Loznica.
By cross-checking data from the Republic Geodetic Institute, BIRN found that Rio Tinto signed at least seven sales contracts with land owners in the villages of Gornje Nedeljica and Slatina – the first in June 2022 and the last in January 2023 – paying a total of more than 1.2 million euros.
The smallest contract is worth 15,000 euros, which is what Rio Sava, the Serbian subsidiary of the mining giant, paid for property on 457 square meters in Slatina, and the largest is 430,000 euros – what the company paid for almost 5,000 square meters, also in the municipality of Loznica.
Rio Tinto does not hide its desire to “revive” the project. Rio Tinto Ltd CEO Jacob Stausholm (Jakob Stausholm) said at a briefing for investors in Sydney in December last year that “Jadar” represents “unbelievable value”.
“We have to figure out how to do it. The only thing I would say today is that we didn’t give up,” Reuters reported his statement.
In a reply to BIRN, Rio Tinto points out that “the purchase of land is a continuation of previously assumed obligations of the Rio Sava company that refer to the period before the Government of Serbia in January 2022 invalidated the acts for the implementation of the project”.
Rio Tinto did not answer the additional question about what kind of “previously assumed obligations” are we talking about, considering that the contracts were certified months after the decision of the Government of Serbia, and the last two almost a year after the suspension of the project.
Battle for Lithium
In the hunt for lithium and other crucial minerals for the electric car supply chain, the United States must compete not just with Chinese competitiveness and manufacturing capability, but also with internal Western limits.
While the US does not appear willing to significantly change their Inflation Reduction Act, which will guarantee nearly $400 billion in “green” subsidies to companies operating in the US over ten years, and while the EU is preparing a response that could include a mix of further easing of state aid and the creation of a “sovereign” fund made up of the residues of the Recovery Plan and little else, but without the coveted (by the Italians) Eurobonds, Consider the case of lithium.
The price of this essential mineral for electric vehicles has more than quadrupled to $75,000 per ton by the end of 2022. It is required to seek for new sources and build refineries to process them. All of this, in accordance with Washington’s approach, without relying on supplies from Beijing or any other “hostile” country. According to the Financial Times, the Biden administration has given the Australians of Ioneer a 700 million dollar conditional loan to establish a mine and processing complex in Nevada. Mining might begin in 2026, but supply contracts with Ford and Toyota have already been struck. Production may support roughly 400,000 electric automobiles per year.
The Inflation Reduction Act’s public financial support for the supply chain is based, above all, but not exclusively, on benefits of up to $7,500 for buyers of electric vehicles produced by companies that procure components and raw materials in the United States or in countries with which Washington trades under a free trade regime, defined not as a formal treaty but rather as “friendship” and partnership.
The administration then invoked the Defense Production Act, a law enacted during the Korean War to direct domestic production toward the war effort, and has so far distributed 2.8 billion to approximately twenty companies involved in the electric vehicle supply chain, as well as activated agreements with Canada, the EU, the United Kingdom, and Australia to invest in critical extractive projects.
In the hunt for lithium and other crucial minerals for the electric car supply chain, the United States must compete not just with Chinese competitiveness and manufacturing capability, but also with internal Western limits. Beijing is aggressively forging partnerships in Africa and Latin America to get minerals in less demanding regulatory environments for use in its home refineries. In reality, China owns 80% of the world’s lithium hydroxide processing capacity, a structural advantage that will be tough to overcome in a reasonable amount of time. It is also required to address the internal limits associated with the mining activity’s permission processes. This is an objective problem in the United States, relating to environmental impact assessments.
Nevada has just one operational lithium mine, and another is awaiting a court decision after a fight with conservation groups safeguarding a rare species of wildflower. A similar tragedy befell a mining project in North Carolina, which failed due to environmental limits, forcing Tesla to rely on Canadian supply. The expansion of the EV chain necessitates mining, which has an environmental effect, as well as the building of processing capacity for these minerals, which necessitates time, money, and administrative difficulties. In the battle between Americans and Chinese, the latter has an obvious edge, owing to the relatively minimal limits imposed by local territory on the establishment of extraction and processing systems.
Europe is in the middle. Which engages in extractive project funding but risks being undermined by the appeal of American environmental subsidies? At the World Economic Forum in Davos, the White House’s special envoy for climate, John Kerry, asked the EU to move quickly on its own version of the Inflation Reduction Act, in order to shorten the development timelines of the Western approach. Because, in Kerry’s words, “money, money, money” is required. Even on our continent, attempts to build lithium mining and processing factories face stiff opposition from local residents.
Examples include the $2.4 billion Serbian Jadar mine project, which Rio Tinto’s Anglo-Australians aimed to exploit but which ended up stalled by the resistance of local communities, which led to the revocation of the initial authorizations by the Serbian government. Or the cancellation of a mining project in Portugal, by government decision.
To these obvious critical issues, which demonstrate that Green Mining is not an oxymoron, is added the European Chemical Agency’s (ECHA) request to classify lithium salts as dangerous to human health and, as a result, subject their extraction and processing to a more stringent and onerous regulatory framework. This might swing the cost balance in favor of imports rather than domestic manufacturing, with all of the associated geopolitical risks. The EU will have to give answers to these crucial operational and budgetary challenges. Keeping in mind that if the new “sovereign wealth fund” is simply a repackaging of the Recovery Fund’s unspent leftovers, individual nations with fiscal ability will act alone, posing a relative danger to the integrity of the single market, Europeans 24 writes.
Serbia stomps on Rio Tinto’s lithium mining project
In Serbia, Rio Tinto then faced a rude shock. The Serbian government, having praised the potential of the Jadar project for some years, abruptly abandoned it. “All decisions (connected to the lithium project) and all licenses have been annulled,” Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić stated flatly on January 20. “As far as project Jadar is concerned, this is an end.”
Branabić insisted, somewhat disingenuously, that this decision merely acknowledged the will of voters. “We are listening to our people and it is our job to protect their interests even when we think differently.”
This is a bit rich coming from a government hostile to industry accountability and investment transparency. The same government also decided to begin infrastructure works on the jadarite mine before the granting of an exploitation permit. Such behaviour has left advocates such as Savo Manojlović of the NGO Kreni-Promeni wondering why Rio Tinto was singled out over, for instance, Eurolithium, which was permitted to dig in the environs of Valjevo in western Serbia.
Zorana Mihajlović, Serbia’s mining and energy minister, preferred to blame the environmental movement, though the alibi seemed a bit forced. “The government showed it wanted the dialogue … (and) attempts to use ecology for political purposes demonstrate they (green groups) care nothing about the lives of the people, nor the industrial development.”
Rio Tinto had been facing an impressive grass roots militia, mobilised to remind Serbians about the devastating implications of proposed lithium mining operations. The Ne damo Jadar (We won’t let anyone take Jadar) group has unerringly focused attention on the secret agreements reached between the mining company and Belgrade. Zlatko Kokanović, vice president of the group, is convinced that the mine would “not only threaten one of Serbia’s oldest and most important archaeological sites, it will also endanger several protected bird species, pond terrapins, and fire salamander, which would otherwise be protected by EU directives.”
Taking issue with the unflattering environmental record of the Anglo-Australian company, numerous protests were organised and petitions launched, including one that has received 292,571 signatures. Last month, activists organised gatherings and marches across the country, including road blockades.
Rio Tinto’s response to the critics was that of the seductive guest keen to impress: we have gifts for the governors, the rulers and the parliamentarians. Give us permission to dig, and we will make you the envy of Europe, green and environmentally sound ambassadors of the electric battery and car revolution.
The European Battery Alliance, a group of electric vehicle supply chain companies, is adamant that the Jadar project “constituted an important share of potential European domestic supply.” The mine would have “contributed to support the growth of a nascent industrial battery-related ecosystem in Serbia, contributing to a substantial amount to Serbia’s annual GDP.” Assiduously selective, the group preferred to ignore the thorny environmental implications of the venture.
The options facing the mining giant vary, none of which would appeal to the board. In a statement, the company claimed that it was “reviewing the legal basis of this decision and the implications for our activities and our people in Serbia.” It might bullyingly seek to sue Belgrade, a move that is unlikely to improve an already worn reputation. “For a major mining company to sue a state is very unusual,” suggests Peter Leon of law firm Herbert Smith Freehills. “A claim under the bilateral treaty is always a last resort, but not a first resort.”
Another option for punters within the company will be a political gamble: hoping that April’s parliamentary elections will usher in a bevy of pro-mining representatives. By then, public antagonism against matters Australian will have dimmed. The Serbian ecological movement, however, is unlikely to ease their campaign. The age of mining impunity in the face of popular protest has come to an end, Dissident Voice writes.
Serbia and lithium, black and not green
If, in addition to 11,400 tons of metal lithium, 100,000 electric cars were produced annually in Serbia, this would increase carbon dioxide emissions by at least 1.15 million tons or by an additional 3.5 percent.
In addition to the justified concern for damage (pollution of underground and surface water, devastation of forests and agricultural land) that can be produced by the mine and processing plants for obtaining compounds of lithium and boron in the Jadar river valley, there are also less well-known harmful consequences that these activities, and the eventual launch of the production of electric cars in Serbia, I can have.
According to data published in February 2021 by the Rio Sava Exploration company itself, the mine would annually produce about 60,000 tons of lithium carbonate (Li2CO3) or about 11,400 tons of metallic lithium. Without going into the issue of mining, the brochure states that the processing plant would consume 80.8 million cubic meters of natural gas per year, which would increase the consumption of that energy source in Serbia by 3.1 percent, given that in 2020, 2,265.96 million cubic meters.
The annual emission of carbon dioxide CO2, the main cause of global warming, in the technological process of lithium carbonate and boric acid production would be between 526,000 and 620,000 tons, which is an increase of 1.22 to 1.44 percent of the total emission in Serbia, which is 2020 amounted to 43 million tons.
In that estimate, in addition to CO2 emissions due to the burning of 80.8 million cubic meters of natural gas and during production, other necessary chemicals that would be used in the technology of obtaining lithium carbonate and boric acid, as well as the effects of the use of 60,000 tons of calcium oxide (quick lime), 320,000 tons of sulfuric acid, 188,000 tons of different types of cement, 110,000 tons of sodium carbonate (Na2CO3) for the deposition of lithium carbonate, while on the other hand, the destruction of more than 520 hectares of forest and agricultural land will permanently destroy the assimilation of atmospheric carbon dioxide. This assessment does not include gas emissions from various means of transport, bulldozers, trucks, commercial passenger cars, necessary for the functioning of the mine, production plant and administration.
According to official announcements, Serbia is ready to invest significant funds in the gigafactory for the production of lithium-ion accumulator batteries (LIB), and later also electric cars. With the optimistic estimate that 100,000 electric cars with a 50 kWh battery will be produced annually, this would increase carbon dioxide emissions by an additional 500,000 tons or 1.16 percent, because it is known that one kWh battery emits about 100 kilograms during production. CO2. For the production of electric cars without batteries, which include various metals, plastics, glass, rubber, approximately five to six tons of CO2 are emitted per vehicle, or 500,000 to 600,000 tons for 100,000 vehicles, which would increase the emission by 1.16 to 1, 4 percent.
All together, the production of lithium and 100,000 electric cars would annually emit about 1,150,000 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, which means that the annual emission of greenhouse gases would increase by at least 3.5 percent. In other words, each electric car would emit about 11,500 kilograms of CO2. The same amount of CO2 would be emitted by the consumption of 4,420 liters of diesel in ordinary cars (a liter of diesel releases 2.6 kilograms of CO2). This means that with an average consumption of five liters per 100 kilometers, a diesel car would travel 88,400 kilometers before the electric car even leaves the factory.
The EU is planning or has introduced taxes of 50 euros per ton of CO2, so increased emissions would expose Serbia to a cost of at least 75 million euros per year (50 euros times 1,150,000 tons). In addition, it should be noted that the production of just one kWh of lithium-ion battery requires 328 kWh of different types of energy, and Serbia, in addition to importing gas and oil, has been importing electricity for more than a year, and the prices of all energy products are at record levels.
With all that, even if Serbia were to produce 100,000 electric cars a year, which is unlikely, with a 50 kWh battery, it would require about 800 tons of lithium metal. So, only seven percent of the total annual production in Jadro, while Rio Tinto could sell the remaining 93 percent to whoever it wants. Of course, Serbia would also buy lithium from him at realistic, market prices.
In addition to lithium (its share ranges from four to ten percent), positive (cathode) materials contain many other expensive and rare metals, cobalt, manganese and nickel, which Serbia does not have and would have to be imported, and the price of cobalt on the world market has varied from 30,000 to 90,000 dollars per ton in the last five years.
Many were also surprised by the announcement of the Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of Serbia and the Slovakian company InoBat, one of whose investors is Rio Tinto, on the construction of a gigafactory for the production of lithium-ion storage batteries with an innovative, revolutionary approach (?!), but on the basis of already well-known nickel-manganese-cobalt cathodes NMC622.
By looking at InoBat’s website, it can be seen that they have developed only one so far prototype of a lithium-ion battery, giving virtually no specifications of that prototype, such as voltage, specific capacity, energy, etc. The internet presentation does not show any mini-factory built so far, so the construction of a giga-factory of this extremely technologically demanding production is highly debatable. Of course, the presentation showed fantasies about flying cars, plant sketches, and a modern, in my humble opinion, average typical laboratory with empty desks, as if drawn.
If all these ideas and projects come to fruition, the crucial question is how to charge such “green” electric cars. The most environmentally acceptable solution is solar energy. The problem, however, is that a quick, half-hour charging of an electric car with a 50 kWh battery requires about 100 kW of electrical power. Therefore, the minimum area of the solar collector would be 800 square meters (dimensions 28 by 28 meters), because an average solar collector of 1.6 square meters (meter by 1.6 meters) and in ideal conditions gives a power of 0.275 kW, and in an average of 0.2 kW.
A multi-car charging station would have to have a huge area for the installation of solar collectors, which is technically unfeasible in urban conditions. And if solar photovoltaic panels were to be installed outside cities, even greater problems of transmission and distribution of that energy would arise. The relatively low DC voltage of the solar photovoltaic collectors would first have to be converted into alternating current by special devices, inverters, and then the voltage should be raised to a much higher value with transformers in order to reduce losses, transmission lines with copper wires should be built, and transformers again in order to reduced the voltage to a usable value and finally installed rectifiers alternating to direct current, which all represent huge investments. Aside from the fact that six to eight tons of carbon dioxide is released to produce a ton of steel for transmission lines and copper for conductors.
An even bigger problem is that solar collectors cannot work 24 hours a day, so additional accumulators are necessary to store surplus solar electricity, so that electric cars can be charged during the night, and all this produces new construction and maintenance costs.
Wind energy (wind generators) is a special story because of the big environmental consequences and oscillations (no wind, no electricity), and they are mostly built on fertile Vojvodina soil to reduce transport costs from locations like Stara Planina.
Because of all this, electric cars would probably be powered by electricity obtained from thermal power plants, because around 70 percent of electricity is produced by burning lignite in Serbia. Considering that 1,490 kWh of electricity can be produced from one ton of lignite from Kolubara, for 100 chargings on average, each electric car would consume 3.3 tons of lignite per year. Therefore, only 10,000 electric cars would increase coal consumption in Serbia by 33,000 tons, and electricity by as much as 50 GWh per year.
Certain parts for electric cars are also problematic. The construction of a lithium-ion battery consists of a positive and negative electrode, a thin porous separator that prevents their contact, and an electrolyte. The last two parts are the main causes of battery fires and explosions. Accidents accompanied by fire and explosion are mainly caused by uncontrolled overheating of batteries, manufacturing errors, damage to batteries in collisions… Self-ignition of a battery always causes an internal short circuit, which occurs when an electrical circuit is formed inside the cell, due to damage to the separator and the formation of an electrical connection between the positive and negative electrodes. The most common cause is corrosion of the negative copper collector, which occurs when the cell discharges below 30 percent capacity.
A battery pack in some electric vehicles can store up to 100 kWh of electricity, and when ignited it can release from two to twenty kilograms of hydrogen fluoride, which is enough to contaminate between 80,000 and 800,000 cubic meters of air. It is unimaginable what would happen in a chain collision of several such cars, because inhaling hydrogen fluoride can cause laryngospasm, laryngeal edema, bronchospasm and/or acute pulmonary edema, and in the most severe cases it can be fatal. According to the standards of the American National Institute for Occupational Safety, a concentration of 24.5 milligrams of hydrogen fluoride per cubic meter of air for 30 minutes is immediately dangerous to life and health, while the latent (lethal) concentration is 139 mg/m3.
An internal short circuit caused by a manufacturing defect is believed to be the root cause of both the 2013 Boeing 787 battery accident and the 2016 Samsung Galaxy 7 cell phone battery explosion. As of February 2022, there were 354 (or about 22 per year) confirmed air/airport incidents involving lithium batteries transported as cargo or baggage.
“In an effort to minimize potential damage to the facility”, and nearby vehicles in rare cases of potential fire, we recommend parking outdoors and 15 or more meters from another vehicle. In addition, we still insist that you do not leave your vehicle unattended while it is charging, even if you are using a charger in an open parking lot,” said Dan Fowlers, a spokesman for General Motors, as reported by the Detroit News on September 17, 2021. That safety “recommendation” came is just days after a 2019 GM Chevrolet Bolt caught fire in the garage of a home in Cherokee County, Georgia.
The owner realized something was up when the smoke alarm in his house went off. When he entered the garage, he noticed smoke billowing from his electric car, which was completely destroyed. Chevrolet has recalled more than 140,000 of the model so far, but is still working with supplier LG Energy Solution to determine the cause of the battery damage that led to the fire.
On November 23, 2022, firefighters used an enormous 45,425 liters of water to extinguish the Tesla Model S fire. Unfortunately, the fire is very difficult to extinguish because it is an internal combustion in the cell, where water cannot reach. By comparison, a standard car fire generally requires less than 2,000 liters of water. In Australia in 2021, it took three full days to put out the big battery fire at the Victorian Big Battery in Moorabbin, near Geelong. The fire started during testing in a shipping container containing a 13-ton lithium-ion battery and spread to another battery pack.
These are just some of the accidents with lithium-ion batteries. The predicted exponential growth of their application in the near future, as well as the purchase of cheaper systems with less security, leads to the thought of a drastic increase in such relatively sporadic cases, with unforeseeable consequences, especially if electric cars catch fire in densely populated urban areas or in a tunnel.
Considering the large emission of carbon dioxide during production, the possibility of self-ignition, the lack of resources for the production of a large number of lithium-based electric cars, the synergy of different alternative sources should be considered. Some of the alternatives in the near future are sodium-ion batteries, hydrogen energy and fuel galvanic couplings, as well as liquid and gaseous biofuels (biodiesel, bioalcohols, biogas), which do not pollute the environment, since the amount of carbon dioxide produced by their combustion is equal to the amount that would be released by rotting the biomass from which they are obtained. The possibilities are unlimited, and clean energy is all around us, we just need to recognize it and use it, NiN writes.
The story of Serbian lithium is once again in the revival phase
That nothing is “cemented” in politics is shown by the revival of the story about lithium and its exploitation by the same actors, and some new ones, not caring much about what they said about it recently, before the elections.
The story of Serbian lithium is once again in the revival phase, even though, allegedly, the topic was put to rest at the beginning of the year. We all remember well when Prime Minister Ana Brnabić declared on January 20 that the government canceled the decree on the Spatial Plan of the special purpose area for the implementation of the jadarite ore exploitation and processing project, as well as that all administrative acts related to the company “Rio Tinto” and its daughter company “Rio Sava”. “All the decisions, all the permits, and we never had the contracts were annulled… This is the end of the ‘Jadar’ and ‘Rio Tinta’ project,” said the Prime Minister at the time, after the session of the Government of Serbia.
This was preceded by mass environmental protests because the mining of the famous “kryptonite”, due to the way of exploitation, can bring more harm than good. Those claims were the main slogans of the protests that took place on Saturdays for three weeks in a row, where tens of thousands of citizens expressed their displeasure and blocked the most important roads.
Due to protests and expressed fear of an ecological disaster, even the denounced multinational concern “Rio Tinto”, whose intention is to invest 2.4 billion dollars in the project to build the largest lithium mine in Europe and one of the largest in the world, decided to stop the project. Jadar”. At least that’s what Vesna Prodanović, general director of “Rio Sava”, the daughter company of this British-Australian mining giant, said.
This stoppage and the promises from “Rio Tinto” were preceded by several decisions of state and local authorities. After visiting Jadar and talking with the locals, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić did not sign the Law on Expropriation and that act will not be in the procedure until further notice, while the Law on Referendum was sent back to the Assembly for correction, so the controversial parts of that act were urgently changed at the request of the alarmed public.
The Assembly of Loznica, a city of 20,000 inhabitants, in December canceled the spatial plan that envisages a mine in that area, and all after the announcement of the President of Serbia and the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) that this will be done and that in the future they will deal with “Rio Tinto” talk differently.
Moratorium and protests
At the beginning of the new year 2022, after Christmas, the President of Serbia stated that he expects the Government of Serbia to terminate all contracts with “Rio Tinto”, but also that his position is that they should not “disrespect the people”. Moreover, he expressed the opinion that a moratorium should be adopted until the end of the year so that the state does not lose its chance and money.
Discordant and, at times, contradictory statements from the top only increased the suspicion of environmental movements and protesters, which is why they insisted on a 20-year moratorium on lithium and boron mining, rather than a one-year moratorium. In that period, the collection of signatures for a people’s initiative proposing the adoption of a law for a permanent ban on the exploitation of lithium and boron began. 38,000 signatures were collected and the initiative was submitted to the Serbian Parliament, but it has not been put on the agenda to this day.
If we look back at the legal and financial sphere, even then everything was not clear and simple, despite political statements or precisely because of them. For the government, which claimed that environmental protection protocols would be respected, it was important that the lithium and boron ore reserves near Loznica are 158 million tons, the calculated value of which is 56 billion dollars, with initial investments of 1.5 billion dollars. The Minister of Mining and Energy at the time, Zorana Mihajlović, stated that Serbia could cover 12 percent of the world’s lithium needs with that project, noting that the value of proven mineral values in Serbia is more than two hundred billion euros.
Was that one of the reasons why President Vučić declared on the eve of the New Year that the “Jadar” project would not be withdrawn even though “some opposition politicians” requested it? Or perhaps it is what the director of the company “Rio Sava” Vesna Prodanović said, that the investment in “Jadar” is the subject of the Bilateral Agreement between Serbia and the United Kingdom from 2002, ratified in 2004, and that that document foresees internationally recognized investment protection mechanisms. Prodanović announced that “Rio Tinto” had allocated 450 million dollars for the development of the “Jadar” project until then, and that in July 2021 it had made a decision to allocate 2.4 billion dollars, provided that it receives the necessary permits and approvals.
Speaking about the protests due to the intention of the company “Rio Tinto” to exploit lithium in the Jadra valley, Vučić said that the company was brought to Serbia and those calling for the protests committed themselves to it through Great Britain. “Will you provide the billion euros we should pay for what they signed?” Or is it better to find a better way to solve the problem. It is important that there is a moratorium, no further activities of ‘Rio Tinta’. We will see what will happen next”, said the President of Serbia in the New Year edition of Večernje Novosti.
That “we’ll see” is just happening. “Rio Tinto” not only did not “bury” its plans, but the CEO of “Rio Tinto” Jakob Stausholm stated that the mining company did not give up on the lithium project “Jadar”, pointing to the reality that it is an incredible resource. That the world needs him. That Serbia needs him… “We have to figure out how to do it. The only thing I would say today is that we haven’t given up,” Stausholm said at a conference for investors in Sydney.
His statement comes at a time when the Government of Serbia is still in the mode of suspending this project, which it has stated on several occasions in recent months that it has been shut down, but also at the end of the “moratorium until the end of the year” that President Vučić spoke of, who today says that he still regrets that he made the decision for Serbia to abandon lithium mining and that because of that he “turned out to be the stupidest president in the world”. Commenting on the protest of environmental activists in front of the Serbian Government building, Vučić told TV Pink that the government did not make any decision, but that he decided everything himself.
“I don’t understand why they protested in front of the government.” When they protest, they should protest in front of the presidency and I will address them and tell them nicely – people, you are destroying the country. The price today is 82,500 dollars per ton of lithium, with these reserves it is 100 billion, because you understand what you are doing to Jadr, Osečina, Valjevo and the whole of Podrinje”, said Vučić and pointed out that Loznica would receive five billion euros from lithium mining and that was the best for the country, but that citizens believed in conspiracy theories, and that the protest leaders were “paid by foreign foundations”.
And Prime Minister Brnabić, who once said that the story of “Rio Tinto” has been put to an end, a few days ago she assessed that lithium is a huge opportunity for Serbia. “Before the discovery of oil, Norway was one of the poorest countries in Europe, and after that it was one of the richest. This is equivalent to that. I made the decision to suspend the ‘Jadar’ project because of political attacks on President Vučić and SNS before the elections, but I still think that it is the biggest development opportunity”, Brnabićeva pointed out, adding that she does not see the possibility of reviving the project.
Therefore, it was just a pre-election story, her opponents from the opposition will say, claiming that the new Minister of Mining and Energy, Dubravka Đedović, wants to bring back the “Jadar” project, which the citizens opposed with mass protests, with her statements. They conclude that from her announcements, immediately after the formation of the Government of Serbia, that Serbia will be an important source of rare minerals in the world in the coming period. In addition to gold, silver, copper, zinc, it is also rich in lithium and therefore, as announced, the state will continue to develop mining while respecting environmental protection standards.
Regarding lithium specifically, Minister Đedović said that Serbia is lucky to have reserves of a very important mineral necessary for renewable sources, which are the focus of the whole world. “I think that Serbia should consider how it can use that potential.” It is mine to look at, to consider, to see what has been done, what has not been done and why it has not been done. But all countries that have a natural resource and do not use it are at a loss,” said the minister and stated that there is no use of a natural resource that is not harmful to the environment, but that the only question is what measures will be taken to reduce the risks. minus. The Minister of Mining says that geological research is currently being carried out in Serbia on 178 exploration fields – among which copper, gold, lead, zinc and silver are the most represented.
For the profession, such investigative rights are questionable and debatable because, as Ratko Ristić, a professor at the Faculty of Forestry at the University of Belgrade, often said, one should know that no company will invest hundreds of thousands and millions of euros because it loves Serbia, rather than to obtain exploitation rights. And these are mostly private mining companies that are interested in profit, not public interest. That is why, according to Professor Ristic, it is very important for Serbia that the Ministry of Mining and Energy starts to share exploration rights that are in the public interest, those that will strengthen the geological capacities of the country, primarily the Geological Survey of Serbia, whose experts used to do all the research, and now they are demoted.
Looking for an alternative
There are also new elements in the whole story, such as the search for alternative companies to “Rio Tintu”. German and Chinese companies have already been mentioned because both of them have the possibility to invest in a lithium battery factory and a plant for the production of electric cars that use such batteries in addition to the mine. Allegedly, the opening of the technological center of the American manufacturer of electric cars “Rivian” should confirm that the state will not agree to the mining of lithium and its export if factories for the production of batteries and electric cars are not opened here.
In such an atmosphere, a session of the Parliamentary Committee for Environmental Protection was scheduled for the end of November, but with bizarre twists and turns because the session took place simultaneously in two places. In the Parliament of Serbia, a meeting of the Committee was held, which was scheduled by the Deputy Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee for Environmental Protection, SNS MP Milimir Vujadinović, with the only agenda item on the use of lithium in Serbia, with reference to the impact on the environment and the overall economic development of the Republic of Serbia, as stated on the portal of the Parliament of Serbia.
At the same time, a meeting was held in Loznica, which was scheduled by the chairman of the Committee for Environmental Protection, Aleksandar Jovanović Ćuta, who will state that on November 15, he properly scheduled a meeting of the Committee in Loznica for November 25, and that subsequently his deputy Vujadinović convened the meeting in an hour later in the building of the Serbian Parliament. The session in Belgrade was attended by ten members of the board, thus providing a quorum for work. The Minister of Environmental Protection Irena Vujović and the Minister of Mining and Energy Dubravka Đedović were also there, as well as the professors of the Faculty of Mining and Geology Dinko Knežević and Nikola Lilić.
It was at that meeting that Minister Đedović said that “the decree of the Government of Serbia for the ‘Jadar’ project was canceled before the Environmental Impact Assessment Studies, which were supposed to be available to the public and be the subject of public discussion, were completed.”
One should not be too perceptive and, based only on what has been said in relation to lithium in recent days, conclude that the “Rio Tinto” project is not dead but that it is slowly coming back because due to the lack of funds, our country is not able to conduct research on its own and that the work is generally left to foreigners. Concessions for the exploration of raw material deposits that Serbia approves last for a maximum of 30 years, after which the state, if something remains in the deposit, can exploit it itself.
And as for the prime minister’s reference to the example of Norway, we should repeat what Pechat already wrote on that topic. Unlike the oil-rich Arab countries, the Norwegians kept everything in their hands, sales above all. That is why many domestic skeptics believe that all this makes sense only if our country is the exclusive owner of that wealth. Since the prospects and quantities of jadarite deposits have a strategic importance for Serbia, the exploitation of the ore and its eventual finalization should not be left to foreigners, who, in that case, would take all the profit and leave us with crumbs and tailings wastelands, such as those near Bor. The Norwegian example speaks volumes about this – both in terms of profit and in terms of ecology, Standard writes.
Serbia, Rio Tinto have not given up on the Jadar project
The CEO of Rio Tinto Ltd., Jacob Stausholm, said that the company has not given up on the “Jadar” lithium project in Serbia, TV N1 reported today.
Reuters reported that Stausholm said at a briefing for investors in Sydney that “Jadar” represents “unbelievable value”, he said.
Reuters recalls that Rio Tinto announced in July that it was “exploring all options” regarding the Jadar project when it comes to local community concerns.
The Prime Minister of Serbia, Ana Brnabić, recently stated that she does not see the possibility of the “Jadar” project being revived, but that she still regrets it, because, according to her, it was a historic opportunity for the development of Serbia.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić said last night on RTS that he likes to talk about lithium, “that it is terribly important and that we made a terrible mistake by stopping the ‘Jadar’ project.”
Although, at least officially, mining of lithium has been abandoned, according to the Handelsblat daily, Serbia is one of those countries that, according to Germany’s plan, should be encouraged to exploit lithium in order to strengthen European battery production and reduce dependence on China.
It is, as stated, a secret document that Berlin submitted to the European Commission (EC) which lists 20 specific proposals and projects that should start the EU’s “Global Gateway” initiative from the deadlock in response to the Chinese project. Belt and Road” and infrastructure investments.
Not a single lithium mine has yet been opened in the EU, although it is planned that the EU will reach zero carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution by 2050, and that tens of millions of electric cars will be driven by 2030.
There are projects that are in the development phase. Lithium is extracted only in Portugal, but for the needs of ceramics, while the opening of a large mine, like the one planned in Serbia, is still awaited. The reasons are expected, namely the negative impact of the mine on the environment.
The Barroso project in Portugal was supposed to be the first large-scale lithium mine in the EU, but the opening has been delayed several times, sometimes indefinitely.
In 2021, the first temporary permit was issued after a preliminary environmental impact report. However, it stopped there, because water pollution, energy consumption, steps after digging and crushing were not solved. In addition, the mine is strongly opposed by the local population and environmental associations.
Optimists believe that the mine could start working in 2023, since at the beginning of this year the government of Portugal approved it in principle, however, the municipalities where the mines should be opened announced the initiation of the procedure for the ban on mining.
It was originally announced that 10 percent of the world’s reserves were located there, but until today the projection was reduced to one percent. The estimated capacity is 27 million metric tons, and the company that wants to mine in Portugal is Savannah resources.
While the uncertainty continues, the Portuguese government has announced that they will not be in a hurry to grant permits.
Several more lithium mines are planned in the EU, and the best-known example is in Germany, where a project is underway where lithium would be obtained with the help of geothermal energy for the extraction of lithium-rich salt water from the Upper Rhine. The final product lithium hydroxide would then be obtained by electrolysis. That lithium should have a zero point of carbon pollution, however in Germany they want to avoid water pollution as well.
The entire project was conceived as an isolated system where the water would be completely purified, and only then released. This is a new approach with obtaining lithium from water, according to the first estimates it pollutes the environment far less than mines.
Research is underway, started in 2021, and this year the State Institute for Geology and Mining determined that the impact of the planned wells on the environment, taking into account their size, scope and intensity of action, cannot be assessed as significant. If everything goes according to plan, the beginning of commercial exploitation is possible from 2025.
The French company Imeris has announced that in 2028 it will start mining a lithium deposit in the Central Massif, which should last 25 years. Since the second half of the 19th century, the site has been home to a quarry that produces 30,000 metric tons of kaolin per year for tile production.
This company states that with 34,000 metric tons of lithium hydroxide per year, they would enable around 700,000 electric vehicles to be equipped with lithium-ion batteries.
The “Cinovec” project, implemented by European Metals Holding, is 100 kilometers from Prague in the Czech Republic. It aims to produce nearly 30,000 metric tons of lithium for batteries annually over a period of 25 years.
According to the 2022 feasibility study of European Metals, “Cinovec” has the potential to become the cheapest lithium rock producer in the world. The ore could produce at $5,000 to $6,000 per metric ton.
It is not yet known whether that will happen, just as it is not known when the mine could start operating. “Cinovec” is, they say, the fourth largest deposit without salt water in the world. With the completion of the investment in April 2020, the project started the work program, but not the production.
An updated Preliminary Feasibility Study (PFS) for the project was completed in June 2019 when the Final Feasibility Study was initiated but not yet complete. This mine is located close to companies that make cars, but also to Tesla’s giga battery factory.
European Lithium is developing the Wolfsberg project in Carinthia, 270 kilometers south of Vienna. This mine project plans to mine 10,000 metric tons of lithium hydroxide per year.
According to the company, this will equip the batteries of around 200,000 electric vehicles. They hope to achieve an operating rate of 800,000 metric tons per year with a mine life of over 10 years. The company expects to start production in 2025.
Finnish mining and battery chemicals company Keliber is currently running a project in western Finland with the goal of reaching production of 15,000 metric tons of lithium hydroxide per year, starting in 2025. The company also strives for sustainable production.
The lithium they plan to extract will, they say, have a smaller carbon footprint than the competition. This is because the refinery is located 70 kilometers from the mine. More than half of the electricity in the Finnish national grid is produced from renewable energy sources. As a result, the refining process will be more environmentally friendly.
In addition to the above, there are several other projects in Europe that are in the development phase. The presence of lithium in several other locations is also being investigated in Serbia.
As things currently stand, more serious lithium production in Europe, that is, the European Union, will not begin before 2025.
The pressure of industries and large capital will certainly increase, and the rise in the price of lithium, which is expected to increase several times over the next decade, is also certain.
Whether the EU will succeed in reconciling mining projects with environmental standards or whether it will enter the green transition with potential devastation on its own or surrounding soil, will be seen soon. The EU certainly needs supply chains that are closer to the continent, but also non-Chinese supply.
The European Green Deal of 2020 indicated that some environmental standards would be lowered, while the RipoverEU plan, published after Russia’s attack on Ukraine, further prioritized the switch to renewables as part of efforts to rapidly reduce use of Russian fossil fuels, Beta writes.