Serbia’s Jadar Valley is home to a high-quality deposit of lithium – a metal that’s critical to the global transition to a more sustainable and clean energy future
With an estimated capital investment of at least 2.55 billion euros, the Jadar project would be the single largest foreign direct investment in Serbia’s modern history.
You were recently appointed Rio Tinto’s Country Head for Serbia. What motivated you to take on this role despite the challenges being faced by the Jadar project?
Having worked on the project for the last four years, I truly believe in Jadar – that jadarite can be mined and processed sustainably. This is an exceptional project. It has the competitive advantage of being a significant resource that is strategically located near large EU markets. The economic opportunity that’s on the table for Serbia is huge. And developing Jadar does not need to come at the cost of the environment.
Jadarite would be mined underground, using the world’s best technologies to make it sustainable and safe. Importantly, local farming and agriculture would be able to continue alongside the mine.
There is still a lot of misinformation about the project, so we need to keep working with the Serbian public to ensure the project and the benefits it could bring are fully understood before the project is “dismissed”. This is most important for the local community, which is why our team is out in Loznica every day, talking to the wider local community, listening to their concerns and better explaining our project and the work we have undertaken over the years.
How has the mining industry changed to meet the needs of communities and policymakers?
Our world is changing and mining is changing with it. We are moving away from a linear model of “take, make and dispose” to a circular model that explores ways for waste to be processed and reused. Our scientists and engineers have discovered ways to take mining waste and repurpose it to create useful products. This is something we are focused on in Serbia, and I am proud to say that our experts are developing innovative solutions that will allow us to reuse more than 50% of the residue from the processing facility.
Our experts are developing innovative solutions that will allow us to reuse more than 50% of the residue from the processing facility
We know that we have more work to do, but we can draw on the expertise of our colleagues around the world who have already made significant breakthroughs in this area. For example, at our Canadian aluminium operations, we are able to repurpose 85% of the waste to make new products. In Quebec, we are recovering scandium from titanium dioxide waste, without the need for additional mining. In just two years, we’ve taken this from a concept in a laboratory to now supplying about 20% of the global scandium market – all from waste. At our Kennecott Copper operation, we have discovered how to extract tellurium from our refining waste, making us one of only two U.S.-based producers of tellurium – a mineral that’s used in solar panels. I’m really encouraged by these innovations and how we’re changing our approach to mining for the better.
Critical minerals are needed for the energy transition, but the challenge for the mining industry is finding ways to extract them sustainably.
The World Bank has predicted that the global production of minerals will need to increase by almost 500% by 2050 in order to meet the growing demand for renewable energy technologies. This means we’re going to have to mine more and recycle more. While it’s clear that mining is central to a more sustainable future, I believe our industry needs to do more to prove it can be done sustainably.
Technology has a big role to play. Mining technology has come a long way over recent decades and Rio Tinto is doing a lot in this space. For example, some of our mine haul trucks in the Pilbara region of Western Australia are directed by a controller sitting almost 1,500 kilometres away, from the safety and comfort of our Operations Centre. Moreover, in 2019 we operationalised AutoHaul, the world’s first fully autonomous, long distance, heavy-haul rail network.
While technology and innovation are important in helping us to mine safely and efficiently, ESG is central to what we do. What this means in practice is that we are working closer than ever before with communities to ensure that they benefit from our operations. In parallel, we can continue to support the global energy transition through the production of the minerals needed for cleaner, greener technologies.
But it’s not enough to simply provide the materials for the energy transition – we also need to play our part in tackling climate change by decarbonising our own operations.
Our goal is net zero emissions by 2050. We are investing around $7.5 billion before 2030 to deliver our decarbonisation strategy and reduce Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions by 50% in that timeframe. We are moving to renewable energy sources, electrifying everything we can and increasing our investment in R&D to accelerate the development of new technologies that will help our customers decarbonise. And, finally, we’re aiming to increase the production of materials that enable the energy transition, such as lithium and copper.
How is Rio Tinto’s Battery Materials business responding to the world’s growing demand for battery materials?
The sustainable development of batteries and large-scale energy storage is a key enabler of the transition to renewable energy. Lithium- ion batteries are extremely important to the energy transition, because they’re lightweight, charge faster, last longer and have a higher energy density than the alternatives.
We are working closer than ever before with communities to ensure that they benefit from our operations
The rising demand for lithium is driven by the e-mobility revolution. Electric cars need batteries and those batteries need lithium. This brings us back to the Jadar project. The Jadar discovery ranks among the most significant undeveloped lithium deposits in the world. It could supply internationally significant quantities of lithium products to the electric vehicle value chain for decades to come.
How can Serbia capitalise on the opportunity created by the e-mobility revolution?
With an estimated capital investment of at least €2.55 billion, the Jadar project would be the single largest foreign direct investment in Serbia’s modern history. The project would increase the country’s GDP by around €1.9 billion – the equivalent of more than 3% of current GDP – and, more importantly, it could act as a catalyst for an entire home-grown electric transport industry.
The global electric transport revolution offers Serbia many opportunities. It’s predicted that more than a trillion euros will be invested globally in the e-mobility sector between now and 2030. Serbia could capitalise on that opportunity. Analysis suggests that vertical integration in the e-mobility ecosystem could multiply the value of FDI in Serbia and have far-reaching impacts on job creation: €6.2 billion in new FDI, and the creation of over 21,000 highly skilled, highpaying jobs.
However, trust and credibility come before figures and numbers: they are the key to the future of mining in Serbia and beyond. We are committed to developing Jadar in a fully transparent and accountable way to the highest environmental standards.