Who are the main players in the ore exploration business in Serbia
A dozen companies based in Australia, Canada and China, through offshore companies and affiliates in Serbia, control about 90 percent of the territory in which the state has issued permits for ore mining.
Approximately 100 companies registered in our country have state licenses for exploration of ores and metals in Serbia, and the total area on which they perform tests covers 5,673 square kilometers, which is a territory the size of a quarter of Vojvodina.
At first glance, it would be said that this is a business in which the competition is numerous. However, in reality, this business is mostly in the hands of only a dozen companies, mostly foreign, which, through affiliated companies, have exploration rights on approximately 90 percent of the territory where the possibilities for opening mines are being investigated.
The turning point for the rise of the ore exploration business in Serbia was 2015, when the Law on Mining and Geological Research was amended. The amendments to the mentioned act, which were adopted by the Assembly of Serbia in December 2015, deprived the local authorities of the authority to issue permits for research, and the decision on that was transferred to the Ministry of Mining.
The new rules have put investors and ore researchers in a much better position, as they “finished” the job at one address in Belgrade. Thus, for example, someone who intended to conduct field research spread over several municipalities no longer had to obtain a permit from each local government separately.
The serious possibility that the mentioned law will be changed was a strong enough signal to potential investors. In the months before the formal adoption of the law, several ore exploration companies were established, and this trend has continued in the coming years, according to data from the Business Registers Agency (APR), which BIRN analyzed.
Of the 30 leading companies in the area where ore is explored, 15 of them have been established since 2015. As of the end of January 2022, those companies had more than a 50 percent share in the total area where ores and minerals are explored in Serbia.
The often mentioned Rio Tinto is not on this list because they passed the research phase even earlier and were practically about to open the mine. There is speculation in the public that some of the companies listed below are “doing business” for Rio Tinto, but for now, everyone has denied those claims.
Network of related companies for ore exploration in Serbia
Who, in fact, are the key players in the ore exploration business in Serbia? Although permits are issued to individual companies that are registered as domestic in the APR, in some cases it is a kind of network of related companies that have the same ultimate owner. BIRN has already mentioned some of these companies in an article on ore exploration in protected areas.
Most of them are companies with foreign management and capital, which mainly comes from Canada, Australia and China.
The formal owners of companies established in Serbia for this activity are in many cases companies based in offshore zones, such as the British Virgin Islands, Malta, Gibraltar and Luxembourg.
Also, what characterizes them is the frequent change of ownership structure and name, so it is not uncommon for an ore exploration company to be founded under one name and owner, and in a few years it will be a company with a completely different name and owner.
In many cases, this type of company was founded by lawyers who were their formal owners and directors for a while, and then the ownership was transferred to companies from abroad.
The following are the top 10 lists of leading companies that control most businesses in Serbia through a network of affiliated companies, as well as the area where ore deposits are searched.
1. Constantine Resources, Australia
Based on data published by the Ministry of Mining on its website, which was further processed and analyzed by BIRN Serbia, “Konstantin Resources” is the company with the largest area where ores are explored. It is an area of 71,089 hectares, which extends to 11 locations from Eastern Serbia, through Sumadija, to the far west of the country.
This company, whose focus is research on gold, silver and copper, was founded in Serbia on August 15, 2017, and in the meantime it has changed its ownership structure. At the time of its establishment, the company “West End Resources PTY LTD” from Australia was registered as its owner. However, in 2019, “Konstantin Resoruces PTY LTD” was registered as the new owner of the company, which changed its name in Australia and kept the same registration number.
During the registration, Vaughan Scott Wishar was listed as the legal representative and director of “Konstantin Resources” in Serbia, and several companies in the field of ore exploration and mining are connected in Australia. In the last change in the APR, on May 24, 2021, he was deleted as the legal representative of the Serbian branch.
2. Zijin, China
The Chinese mining conglomerate “Zijin” is conducting research in Serbia on a total area of almost 60,000 hectares through four companies owned by it. According to the APR, Zijin could not be directly linked to all these companies, but the ownership of them is confirmed by a document published on the website of the Commission for Protection of Competition. It is a document in which the concentration of capital was decided and in which, among other things, the companies through which “Zijin” operates in Serbia are listed. These are “Balkan Exploration and Mining”, “Serbia Zijin Mining”, “Tilva” and “Serbia Zijin Bor Copper”.
“Balkan Exploration and Mining” had exploration permits on an area of 28,722 hectares, and the owner of this film in the APR was the company “Reservoir Consulting (BVI) Inc”, registered in the British Virgin Islands. This company received permits for ore exploration in the territory of the city of Belgrade, with a total area of 6,741 hectares. It is about the locality “Babe – Ljuta strana”, which covers the municipalities of Voždovac, Sopot and Barajevo, where the presence of lead, precious and non-ferrous metals was investigated. However, on February 22 this year, the Ministry of Mining announced that “Zijin” had given up on further research at this location.
Serbia Zijin Mining has permits for an exploration area of 18,841 hectares, and its formal owner is the Cukaru Peki BV company, registered in the Netherlands.
“Zijin’s” company “Tilva” has a permit for exploration on an area of 13,498 hectares, and the company of the same name registered in the British Virgin Islands is registered as its owner in APR.
Finally, the 5,267-hectare exploration area is controlled by Serbia Zijin Bor Copper, in which, in addition to Zijin-related companies, the Serbian government has a 36.99 percent stake.
3. Mundoro, Canada
The Canadian company “Mundoro” controls 51,744 hectares of exploration space in Serbia through the companies “Stara Planina Resources” and “Valdor Resources”.
The company “Stara Planina Resources” was founded in 2011, and since 2015 the owner of the company is “Mundoro Middelen B. V”, registered in the Netherlands, based in Canada. Mundoro in Canada also owns Great Mountain Ventures Ltd, which owns Valdor Resources, founded in Serbia in 2020. In all of these companies, both Serbian subsidiaries and in Canada, Teodora Dechev, an investment banker from Canada.
4. Dundee Precious Metals, Canada
Canadian mining giant Dundee Precious Metals operates in Serbia through two companies, which APR states are owned by Dundee Precious Avala SARL, registered in Luxembourg.
These are the companies “Dunav Minerals” and “DPM Avala”, which together have licenses for research on about 40,000 hectares. In Serbia, they have investigative spaces at nine locations, from Homolje in Eastern Serbia to the area around Kursumlija, Brus and Medvedja. By the way, these two companies initially operated separately, but later merged, and then they were taken over by “Dundee Precious Metals”.
5. Ibaera Capital, Australia
Ibaera Capital, an Australian investment fund specializing in ore exploration, is present in Serbia through Tara Gold and Zlatna Reka Resources, which together control 37,879 hectares.
“Tara Gold” was founded in 2016, and the company “Eldorado Gold Cooperatief U. A” from the Netherlands was registered as the owner. In the meantime, it became the property of the company “ISIHC Ltd”, registered in Great Britain.
“Golden River Resources” was founded in 2020 and its formal owner is “Betoota Holdings Ltd” from Great Britain. Both companies had the same director, Peder Olsen from Australia, for some time, and their ownership companies were registered at the same address in London. According to the data from the British business registers, the trail from London continues to the Cayman Islands, where the company “Ibaera Capital Fund GP Ltd” is registered, which also operates in Australia under the same name.
6. Balkan Metal Corp., Canada
The company “Balkan Metal Corp” from Canada in our country conducts ore research on a total area of about 35,000 hectares through the company “Golden Age Resources” registered in Serbia on May 11, 2018. Zoran Bulović is registered as its first owner in APR. However, on April 6, 2022, the company changed its ownership structure, and the company “Balkan Metals Corp” from Vancouver was registered as the new owner in APR.
7. Jadar Lithium Ltd, Australia
The company “Jadar Lithium Ltd” from Australia is present in Serbia through the company “Balkan Research”, which has licenses for research of lithium and boron on an area of 33,692 hectares. It was founded on March 18, 2016, under the name “Nova Centauri Maetals”, and the Australian company of the same name was registered as the owner at that time.
In the meantime, the names and owners have changed. On July 2, 2019, the company changed its name to “Jadar Lithium”, and on September 13, 2021, it was registered under the name “Balkan Research”. At the same time, the owners from Australia changed. The company first passed into the hands of a company called Centralist PTY LTD, which was later taken over by South East Asia Resources and changed its name to Jadar Lithium Ltd ”.
8. Metalfer, Serbia
“Metalfer” is the only company from Serbia that is among the leading companies that explore ores in Serbia. It is a group that gathers several companies engaged in trade, processing and research of ores and metal products, whose headquarters are in Sremska Mitrovica. The company was founded in 2002, and its co-owners are Branko Zečević, Zoran Lojović and Stefan Zečević.
9. Medgold Resources, Canada
The Canadian company “Medgold Resources” is looking for ores through the Serbian branch of “Medgold Research”. It is a company based on the wave of the changed Law on Mining and Geological Research, which controls about 20,000 hectares of exploration space in the municipalities of Trgoviste and Bosilegrad.
They were registered in the APR on January 14, 2016, less than a month after the adoption of the said act. Lawyer Marko Curic is the first owner. As of November 25, 2021, the company is formally owned by the company “Tlamingo Mining” registered in Malta, but it is actually a subsidiary of the Canadian company “Medgold Resources”.
10. Euro Lithium Balkan, Canada
The Canadian company “Euro Lithium Balkan” is researching potential deposits of lithium and pine on an area of almost 19,000 hectares in the vicinity of Valjevo, through a company of the same name registered in Serbia. The company was founded in 2015 under the name “GeoMin Consulting”. In the meantime, it changed its name to “Euro Lithium Balkan” and became the property of the mentioned company from Canada, BIRN writes.
Rio Tinto faced a rude shock
On the face of it, there seems to be little in the way of connection between the treatment of Novak Djokovic by Australian authorities and the cooling of the Serbian government towards Rio Tinto. The Anglo-Australian mining giant was confident that it would, at least eventually, win out in gaining the permissions to commence work on its US$2.4 billion lithium-borates mine in the Jadar Valley.
In 2021, Rio Tinto stated that the project would “scale up [the company’s] exposure to battery materials, and demonstrate the company’s commitment to investing capital in a disciplined manner to further strengthen its portfolio for the global energy transition.”
The road had been a bit bumpy, including a growing environmental movement determined to scuttle the project. But the ruling coalition, led by the Serbian Progressive Party, had resisted going wobbly on the issue.
Then came the maligning of the world number one tennis player in Australia. Djokovic had been tormented by a brief spell of confinement in quarters normally reserved for refugees kept in indefinite detention, and eventually defeated in the Full Court of the Federal Court. During the course of events, he saw his visa cancelled twice, first by a member of the Australian Border Force, the next time by Immigration Minister Alex Hawke. Along the way, lynch mobs were thrilled that “Novaxx” Djokovic, that great threat to Australia’s vaccinated innocence, was finally on a flight home.
The Serbian government attempted to intervene. President Aleksander Vučić made a plea to the Morrison government to resist cancelling Djokovic’s visa; the Australian Open was the Serbian tennis player’s favourite tournament, one he had won numerous times.
A diplomatic incident, more murmur than bark, was sparked. “In line with all standards of international public law, Serbia will fight for Novak Djokovic,” promised the Serbian premier. But for an Australian government that has flouted international law and fetishized border control, the call mattered little.
In Serbia, Rio Tinto then faced a rude shock. The Vučić 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 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.
Djokovic has not been immune to the growing green movement, if only to lend a few words of support. In a December Instagram story post featuring a picture of anti-mining protests, he declared that, “Clean air, water and food are the keys to health. Without it, every word about health is redundant.”
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 do 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.
Medgold Resources has signed a binding option agreement to sell a 100% interest in the Tlamino gold project in southern Serbia to MetalsTech
Canada-based Medgold Resources said it has signed a binding option agreement to sell a 100% interest in the Tlamino gold project in southern Serbia to Australia-based mining company MetalsTech for 3 million Australian dollars ($2.2 million/1.9 million euro) in cash.
The exclusive option is exercisable by MetalsTech on or before 30 calendar days from the effective date of the agreement and seven calendar days subsequent to MetalsTech advising Medgold that it has completed its due diligence, Medgold said in a statement on Wednesday.
Completion of the acquisition is subject to the satisfaction of certain conditions, including the conversion of the 51% interest in the Tlamino project of Fortuna Silver Mines, a partner of Medgold, to a 1% net smelter return royalty, and regulatory approvals in Canada and Australia, Medgold said.
“We are pleased to have the opportunity to monetize Medgold’s Serbian business. If completed, the proceeds of the Tlamino sale will allow us to focus on acquiring and advancing other exploration properties of merit. We’re already actively searching for new precious and base metal projects and I look forward to updating shareholders in due course,” Jeremy Crozier, president and CEO of Medgold, noted.
The Tlamino project is located close to the borders of both Bulgaria and North Macedonia, approximately five hours south of the Serbian capital, Belgrade. The project comprises two exploration licenses, Donje Tlamino and Surlica-Dukat, each approximately 100 square kilometres.
All exploration work at the project is fully-funded by Fortuna, which has an option to earn up to 70% of the project by spending $8 million (7.2 million euro) on exploration over five years.
Canadian Medgold continues to explore gold and silver near Bosilegrad in the spring
The Canadian company Medgold Resources, which discovered a rich gold and silver deposit near Bosilegrad, will continue research in the spring.
As Aleksandar Vulović from this company, which discovered the Barje site near Bosilegrad in 2018, told eKapija, there is an economic justification for the research to continue.
– We actively explored the site in 2018 and 2019, while last year we slowed down due to the corona, but next year we will continue with earlier intensity in the spring. Now we have a potential partner, the company Metaltech from Australia, which should elaborate the project in more detail – says Vulović.
When asked when we could expect the project to be concretized, Vulović said that it was too early to talk about it, because it would take several more years to do more detailed research and accompanying technical studies that would enable the possible exploitation of the ore.
– For now, we only have the right of investigation, we still do not have the right of exploitation. For now, we are in the middle of the project, the next steps are the continuation of research, and then the development of spatial planning documentation, which leads to obtaining the right of exploitation – explains the interlocutor of our portal.
He adds that in two years, the company will have a clearer picture of what the deposit is and more detailed information about the ore body, on the basis of which the design, excavation methodology and mining facilities are then done.
Vulovic also points out that the company has a desire to start research at some other locations in Serbia, and that it should be seen which locations are still free, but he notes that Barje is currently Medgold’s priority in Serbia.
On the website of Medgold istraživanja doo Belgrade, which is a Serbian subsidiary of the Canadian company, it was pointed out that Medgold currently has five approved exploration rights, each of which covers approximately 100 square kilometers and which includes a potentially rich belt of mineralization of silver and gold. and southern parts of Serbia.
Near the Municipality of Bosilegrad, Medgold has three exploration rights covering a total of about 250 square kilometers, two of which are part of the Tlamino project, which includes the Barje location.
As the media reported last summer, Medgold found close to 19.3 tons of gold, worth more than a billion dollars, within the Tlamino project.
Rio Tinto says 60 Jadar mines wouldn’t fill looming lithium gap
Rio Tinto joined the rising chorus of companies and analysts warning of an imminent and “significant” supply gap for lithium, as demand for the metal used in electric vehicles (EV) and green technologies continues to soar.
The world’s second-largest miner, which greenlighted in July the $2.4 billion Jadar lithium project in Serbia, believes the supply gap needs to be addressed “within the next ten years.”
In a presentation to investors, Rio Tinto’s head of economics Vivek Tulpule said EV sales are on track to hit up to 55% of the world’s total light vehicles sales as early as 2030, reaching about 65 million units.
This means manufacturers would need about three million tonnes of lithium, compared with the roughly 350,000 tonnes they consume today, Tulpule noted.
Existing operations and projects combined, however, are slated to contribute one million tonnes of lithium, he said.
Rio Tinto estimates that committed supply and capacity expansions will contribute about 15% to demand growth over the 2020-2050 period. The remaining 85% would need to come from new projects.
“Filling the supply gap will require over 60 Jadar projects,” he warned.
Jadar, located in western Serbia, would produce enough lithium to power one million electric vehicles, Rio has said. It will also produce boric acid, used in ceramics and batteries, and sodium sulphate, used in detergents.
Mine construction is expected to begin early next year, subject to environmental approvals, with the first production in 2026. Following ramp up to full production in 2029, the Jadar mine will produce 58,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate, 160,000 tonnes of boric acid and 255,000 tonnes of sodium sulphate a year.
The company anticipates that recycling will take on a bigger role in the coming years but will only begin to make a relevant contribution after 2040 as vehicles that are currently being purchased are scrapped.
Rio Tinto believes lithium-ion batteries will be the preferred storage technology for EVs, as well as important contributors to the setting of a renewable grid.
“Expected future development of solid-state batteries with improved energy density and safety performance could provide further upside, by increasing lithium intensity per kilowatt by over 30%,” Tulpule said.
Over the past five years, the miner has tried to expand its footprint in the battery market. In 2018, Rio reportedly attempted to buy a $5B stake in Chile’s Chemical and Mining Society (SQM), the world’s second largest lithium producer.
In April this year, it kicked off lithium production from waste rock at a demonstration plant located at a borates mine it controls in California.
Rio invested $10 million to build the pilot plant that will be able to produce 10 tonnes a year of lithium-carbonate. By the end of the year, and based on the trial’s results, it will decide whether or not to spend a further $50 million in an industrial-scale plant with annual capacity of 5,000 tonnes a year — enough for around 15,000 Tesla Model S batteries.
The projected production would be roughly the same as the capacity of Albemarle ’s Silver Peak mine in Nevada, which is currently the only lithium-carbonate producing asset in the country, according to the US Geological Survey.
Serbia got another significant mine
Namely, the Ministry of Construction, Transport and Infrastructure put the working version of the spatial plan of the area of special purpose for the exploitation of gold in the exploration area Potaj čuka-Tisnica on early public inspection.
The plan, prepared by the Institute of Architecture and Urbanism of Serbia, was ordered by the company Avala Resources doo Belgrade, which operates as part of the Canadian company Dundee Precious Metals from Toronto, writes Ekapija.
The gold deposits of the future mine “Potaj chuka-Tisnica” are located in the southeastern part of the municipality of Zagubica, and the exploration area also includes the southwestern part of the municipality of Majdanpek, it is stated in the plan.
Specifically, the spatial plan includes parts of the cadastral municipalities of Žagubica (Laznica selo, Laznica Selište and Žagubica, and in Majdanpek Jasikovo and Leskovo). The total area covered by the plan is about 292 square kilometers.
The operation of the deposit will last for seven years. It is envisaged that the gold ore will be exploited through surface mines, and the processing of oxide ore, in order to obtain gold, will be done by the leaching method.
After the expiration of the seven-year period of exploitation, the mine will be closed for a year and recultivated.
The mine complex will include, in addition to mines and pile leaching plants, crushing and agglomeration plants, ADR plant, mine tailings dumps, internal and public infrastructure and other ancillary facilities.
As it is reminded in the plan, Avala Resources has an approval for geological research in the exploration area Potaj čuka – Tisnica, based on when extensive geological research of this area was performed in the period from 2010 to 2017.
It is estimated that there are 19.2 Mt (megatons) of probable reserves with an average gold content of 1.07 g / t.
Based on the results of the research, the planned production of the Canadian company is processing 2.5 megatons per year, with an average gold content of 1.07 g / t and a total gold yield of 84.9% for oxide and 71.8% for the transition type of ore.
The ore processing will be realized in two phases: 9.9 Mt in phase 1, and 9.3 Mt in phase 2, which makes a total of 19.2 Mt of processed ore during the life of the mine of seven years.
The plan also states that the leaching process involves the formation of a gold-cyanide complex and the use of activated carbon to bind the gold complex.
“According to available sources, the use of cyanide in gold extraction and processing in ore extraction is the most commonly used method in European mines. Gold mine facilities using cyanide leaching methods located near or relatively close to residential areas across Europe are, e.g. Faboliden in Sweden, Pahtavaara in Finland, Omagh in Ireland, then the Balkans and mines in Turkey Globally, the use of cyanide in the precious metals industry is used in 400 processing plants in the world, most of which are high-tech mines and are located “for the most part in advanced countries such as the United States, Sweden, Finland, Australia and Canada”, the plan said.
It is added that modern technology uses cyanide for the production of precious metals exclusively in a closed system, and that the entire extraction process is continuously and completely digitally monitored.
“The EU considers this production process to be the best available technique, with very strict standards for the production circuit and leaching plants,” the document reads.
When it comes to tailings dumps, it was pointed out that current works on testing the acidity of tailings show that for less than 10% of the sampled material there is a probability of acid formation.
“Acid-forming tailings require a coated substrate, and water runoff requires chemical treatment before being released into the environment. The tailings dump on Bigar Hill will be arranged to accommodate up to 7 megatons of acid-forming tailings. The Bigar Hill plant is. may expand to possibly serve a sulphide-type ore processing plant in the future, which is not relevant at this stage of mine development. uncoated plants, ”the draft spatial plan says.
By the way, in May, the Ministry made a decision that a Strategic Environmental Assessment will be done for the spatial plan of the area for special purpose of gold exploitation in the exploration area Potaj Čuka – Tisnica.
It is also stated that the exploitation and processing of ore reserves from the Potaj Chuka-Tisnica deposit is of interest for the overall development of Serbia, and especially for the areas of Zagubica and Majdanpek.
The location of the future mine can be reached by regional asphalt roads between Bor, Žagubica, Krepoljina and Zlot. This area is connected with Bor to Zajecar and Paracin, and via Zagubica with Pozarevac (and with Belgrade).
According to earlier announcements, the initial investment in this mine would amount to 136 million dollars.
Thousands of demonstrators rallied across the Serbian capital Belgrade this month
Thousands of demonstrators rallied across the Serbian capital Belgrade this month, protesting the US$2.4 billion (A$3.3 billion) Jadar lithium mine proposed by global mining giant Rio Tinto. The project, Rio Tinto’s flagship renewable energy initiative, is set to become the largest lithium project in the European Union.
Lithium is a crucial component of energy storage, both for renewable energy technologies and electric vehicles. Forecast demand has prompted efforts by companies and governments worldwide to tap into this market – a scramble dubbed the “white gold rush”.
As lithium projects have multiplied across Australia, Europe, Latin America and the US in recent years, so too have concerns over their environmental and social impacts. Communities near proposed and existing lithium mines are some of the loudest opponents. In a town near the proposed mine in Serbia, a banner reads: “No mine, yes life”.
Lithium extraction serves legitimate global environmental needs. But the industry must not ignore local social and environmental risks, and community voices must be included in decision making. The harsh lessons of mining to date need not be learned again in new places.
Weighing the risks
According to the latest estimates, the world’s resources of lithium sit at 86 million tonnes, a number that continues to grow as new deposits are found every year. Australia is the main producer of lithium, where it’s mined from hard rock called “spodumene”. The largest deposits are found in South America, where lithium is extracted from brines underneath salt flats.
In many cases, lithium mines are relatively new operations, yet complex and adverse social and environmental impacts have already been observed. More research and better targeted policy are needed to help understand and manage the socio-environmental impacts.
In Chile, lithium has been mined since the 1980s. It has been shown to interfere with cultural practices of local Indigenous communities, alter traditional economic livelihoods and exacerbate the fragility of surrounding ecosystems.
The Jadar lithium project is operated by Rio Sava, a subsidiary of Rio Tinto. It’s expected to become one of Serbia’s largest mines, occupying around 387 hectares, and contribute to at least 1% of Serbia’s GDP.
An environmental impact study commissioned by Rio Tinto, and obtained by Reuters, found the project would cause “irredeemable damage” to the environment, concluding the project should not go ahead. Environmental impacts are expected for any mine proposal. Yet some are manageable, so such a grave assessment in this case is not encouraging.
The extent to which a project shows best practice in mine management can depend on pressure from communities, investors and governments. Promises to adhere to all regulations are a common response from the industry.
But as we’re seeing in Chile, significant environmental damage and socio-environmental impacts can still occur within established regulations. Here, communities living on the salt flats are concerned about the effect of removing groundwater for lithium extraction on their livelihoods and surrounding ecosystems.
Communities near the Jadar Mine project hold similar concerns. They have gathered in formal organisation to reject the project and stage demonstrations. A petition against the project has gained over 130,000 signatures, and a report by Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences has protested the project’s approval.
The communities fear the potential risks of air and waterborne pollution from the lithium mine, destruction of biodiversity, and the loss of land to mine infrastructure. These risks could affect the livelihoods of local landholders, farmers and residents.
Of particular concern is that the proposed locations for mine waste (tailings) are in a valley prone to flash flooding and may lead to toxic waste spills. This previously occurred in the same region when the abandoned Stolice antimony mine flooded in 2014. Rio Tinto has said it will try to mitigate this risk by converting the liquid waste into so-called “dry cakes”.
In response to this article, a Rio Tinto spokesperson said it has been working through the project requirements for 20 years, with a team of over 100 domestic experts studying the possible cumulative impacts in accordance with Serbian law, adding:
The study will consider all potential environmental effects of proposed actions and define measures to eliminate or reduce them […] including water, noise, air quality, biodiversity and cultural heritage.
Can we decarbonise without sacrifice?
The Jadar Mine project is touted for its potential to bring significant profits to both Rio Tinto and the Serbian state, while helping usher in the era of decarbonisation.
Rio Tinto plans to begin construction by 2022, “subject to receiving all relevant approvals, permits and licences and ongoing engagement”, with first saleable production expected in 2026.
But relatively fast timelines like this can sometimes be a sign of regulatory governance instability, including weak regulatory frameworks or regulatory capture (when agencies are increasingly dominated by the interests they regulate). We have seen this in Guyana, Peru and Brazil.
In Australia, Rio Tinto’s recent destruction of the culturally invaluable Juukan Gorge — which, notably,ocurred legally — also demonstrates regulatory governance risks.
Rio Tinto’s spokesperson said its Environmental Impact Assessment process includes a public consultation period including, for example, meetings with non-government organisations, adding:
We have established information centres in Loznica and Brezjak and, since 2019, have hosted over 20 public open day events in these centres focusing on aspects of the project including environment studies, cultural heritage and land acquisition.
Although the Serbian government indicated that it’s prepared to hold a referendum to find out the will of citizens about the Jadar mine project, the community protests suggest the project hasn’t obtained any social license to operate.
A “social license to operate” is, despite its corporatised name, increasingly key to sustainable or responsible mining projects. It centres on ongoing acceptance by stakeholders, the public, and local communities of a company’s standard business practices. Building such trust takes time, and a social license is only a minimum requirement.
In Argentina, for example, Indigenous communities living near the lithium mines have developed their own protocol for giving their informed consent.
Similarly, processes of community-based impact assessment or self-government structures led by First Nations in Canada offer insight into potential collaborative relationships.
These processes cannot be rushed to ensure voices are heard, rights are respected, and environmental protection is possible.
A new frontier
Like many other communities negotiating proposed mine projects, local communities and residents in Serbia should not become another zone of sacrifice, shouldering the socio-environmental costs of supporting a renewable energy transition.
Lithium deposits are often seen as “new frontiers” in the places they’re discovered. Yet we must learn from historical lessons of frontier expansion, and remember that places imagined as “undiscovered” aren’t actually empty.
The people who live there must not bear the brunt of a so-called “green” future.
BMM begins a surface sampling program at the Dobrinja Lithium-Borate Project in Serbia
- Balkan Mining and Minerals (BMM) begins a surface sampling program at the Dobrinja Lithium-Borate Project in Serbia
- Once sampling at Dobrinja has been completed, the geological team will move to the Pranjani Project
- Results from the surface sampling will be assessed with mapping information to prioritise drill targets for future programs
- Balkan is down 4.38 per cent on the market with shares trading at 76.5 cents at 2:17 pm AEST
Balkan Mining and Minerals (BMM) has begun a surface sampling program at the Dobrinja Lithium-Borate Project in Serbia.
The 37.58 square kilometre Dobrinja Project lies in Western Serbia along trend from where lithium-borate mineral resources and ore reserves have been defined.
Once sampling at Dobrinja has been completed, the geological team will move to the Pranjani Project.
The Pranjani Project lies 10 kilometres to the northeast of Dobrinja in a basin that is believed to be connected to the latter.
Historical data shows elevated lithium and boron levels with lithium values ranging between 145 to 478 parts per million (ppm), and boron values ranging between 41 to 585 ppm.
Results from the surface sampling will be assessed with mapping information to prioritise drill targets for future programs.
Additionally, once the sampling wraps up, Balkan will undertake a gravity survey with aims of defining basin geometry.
Managing Director Ross Cotton commented on the sampling program.
“Dobrinja is particularly interesting as it shows a lot of outcropping, which is a good indicator for lithium and borates”,the Mr Cotton said.
“We are pleased that we have continued to deliver on our objectives and not have wasted any time on beginning our programs and advancing our projects”.
Balkan was down 4.38 per cent on the market with shares trading at 76.5 cents at 2:17 pm AEST.
Serbian protesters on Saturday marched to oppose Rio Tinto’s lithium mine plans
Serbian protesters on Saturday marched to oppose Rio Tinto’s lithium mine plans due to rising concerns over the ecological and environmental repercussions
Serbian protesters are angry. The country’s activists are rallying support to oppose Rio Tinto’s proposed lithium mine as tensions rise over the environmental repercussions of the project. On Saturday, hundreds of people attended a march in an attempt to draw attention to the sustainability issues surrounding Rio Tinto’s plans, ultimately hoping to garner enough support that real action is taken to block the project’s go-ahead.
Currently, lithium mining is set to begin in the Balkan country. As an increasing number of countries worldwide target carbon neutrality and align their emissions to meet the standards set out in the Paris Climate Agreement, lithium is fast becoming the new metal currency of the world. Lithium is one of the main battery metals used in the production of electric cars, and with fears already growing over the mining industry’s incapacity to supply enough of the metal to meet demand, Rio Tinto’s Serbian lithium mine is due to boost both the company’s revenue and the amount of lithium available to manufacturers globally.
What are the sustainable repercussions of the lithium mine?
But at what cost? For an industry that is claiming to supply the means for a sustainable future, the very methods that are being used to target a healthier environment are, in the eyes of the Serbian protesters, coming at a cost to the environment it’s trying to protect.
“We were thirsty this summer, we breathe toxic air and land is being sold out”, claim organisers of the rally. “Forests are being cut and mines are expanding”.
Around 30 ecological groups organised the rally in downtown Belgrade, rousing support for the opposition of politicians and the mounting disillusionment over the threat pollutions will hold over the local region. Banners were paraded calling for Serbian rivers, nature, and air to be better shielded from the repercussions, avoiding the risk of endangering the environment and calling out government policies for neglect and prioritising financial gain.
Serbia already facing an environmental crisis
“Our demand is that the government of Serbia annul all obligations to Rio Tinto”, organiser Aleksandar Jovanovic says. “We have gathered to say no to those who offer concentrated sulphuric acid instead of raspberries and honey”.
Serbia is already fighting a number of environmental issues such as high air pollution as a result of low-quality coal. Toxic industrial waste has leaked into rivers and cities are suffering from inadequate wastewater systems.
Rio Tinto is also facing growing opposition in the form of a petition which has already succeeded in gaining over 100,000 signatures. But the company’s US$2.4bn investment into its Serbian lithium mine clearly shows that it’s not ready to let its plans simply fall through without a fight.
Serbia: Opposition to international mining company Rio Tinto’s planned lithium mine in Serbia is growing
Opposition to international mining company Rio Tinto’s planned lithium mine in Serbia is growing, as local residents and NGOS raise concerns about the potential environmental impact of the project.
The Jadar project is set to turn Rio Tinto into one of the world’s ten largest lithium producers. Demand for the metal is set to grow strongly in the coming years as it is an important input for electronic vehicle (EV) batteries as well as for electronics products.
In July, Rio Tinto committed $2.4bn to the Jadar project as the global mining company pushes into metals needed for the green energy transition, including lithium.
At an online presentation of the mining process, the CEO of Rio Sava Exploration, Serbia’s subsidiary of the Rio Tinto Group, Vesna Prodanovic, said that the products from the Jadar mine in western Serbia would include lithium carbon boric acid and sodium sulphate.
As reported by N1, she added that the company aims to improve the life of the locals, to establish a partnership and make those who would remain in the area realise the project would be safe for their life and health.
“The key thing is that 99.95% of sulphuric acid will be used in these reactions (processing of jadarite). So the acid is depleted as part of this reaction, and there is no residual sulphuric acid“, Wayne Sentans, the head of processing at the Jadar project, said during the online presentation.
But, the latest presentation comes amid protests by Serbian environmental activists against lithium mining. Opposition to the project is growing because of concerns about possible environmental damage and protest rallies have become more frequent. In April, thousands gathered in Belgrade to protest against widespread pollution in the country and against the lithium mine near Loznica.
More broadly, there is concern in Serbia that the government has been giving foreign companies concessions including exemptions from some environmental rules to persuade them to invest in the country.
Among the opponents of the project are the right-wing eurosceptic Dosta ie Bilo (Enough is Enough) movement, which in a statement earlier this month accused Germany and other EU countries of viewing Serbia as “an excellent source of quality cheap labour and parking lot for dirty technologies where they can do everything they can’t do at home”.
“At the moment, Europe practically does not dig lithium, although Portugal, Germany and other countries have it, because the technology is dirty and very harmful to the human environment … Lithium in the Jadra Valley is critically important for the German car industry, whose all new models from 2026 will be electric. The environment in Germany is important to Germany, but not in Serbia”, it added.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Mining and Energy Zorana Mihajlovic attacked the protests against the Jadar lithium mining plan as “political” rather than environmental, and pointed out that with the launch of the mine, Serbia has the potential to create an entire value chain through to electrical vehicles.
A petition calling for a ban on the project and associated metal processing complex in the Jadar Valley because of pollution concerns received more than 110,400 signatures in Serbia by June 10.
The Serbian government has announced a referendum on the Jadar project that will allow the Serbian population to decide whether it goes ahead, but it first plans to complete a study on the project. “The citizens will have the final say in the referendum, but they must know all the data”, said Mihajlovic in June.
Source: bne IntelliNews