A new mineral, a new process technology and a new market all require careful consideration in order for Jadar to become an enduring, sustainable operation. We do our best to ensure our stakeholders that what we are doing, and how we are doing it, will benefit the local economy, provide jobs, develop skills and contribute to Serbian society
I am really proud that the previous phase of our project was concluded in the first quarter of 2020, under lockdown conditions, says Marnie Finlayson, General Manager of Rio Sava Exploration d.o.o.
The majority of Rio Tinto employees were working remotely at the time, yet, as our interlocutor explains, “we were able to utilise technology and our strong team connections to ensure that the work was completed to a high standard, and that the reviews and approval meetings were completed virtually, and obviously successfully”.
Rio Tinto recently approved an additional investment of almost $200 million to progress to the next stage of the development of the lithium-borate Jadar project in Serbia. What does this mean?
– It typically takes over a decade for a world-class Greenfield underground project of this size to reach the operational stage, as we work through the technical challenges of mining and processing the material. Jadar was a Rio Tinto discovery in 2004 and we are very happy to announce that we are moving on to the feasibility phase, with the Rio Tinto board’s decision to allocate an additional $200m to advance the Jadar project.
The future development of the Jadar project would include an underground mine, industrial processing facility and all associated infrastructure. In the Feasibility Study we are focused on the completion of detailed engineering designs, finalising the Elaborate on Reserves in accordance with the Serbian mineral code, which will be submitted to the ministry, and progressing the permitting and land acquisition in accordance with the project schedule.
Our focus remains on delivering the Jadar project in cooperation with the Government of Serbia in a manner that’s safe and sustainable both for the community and for our company.
What are your thoughts about the mining industry in Serbia? Given that we’ve witnessed its revival over the past several years, is there a chance for Serbia to return to the global mining map that it was once a significant part of?
– Definitely yes. The mining industry in Serbia is indeed experiencing a revival. Minister Antić stated recently that mining is one of the most dynamic parts of the Serbian economy and that it had 3.8% growth in production in the first six months of this year. This tells us that the mining industry and the mining business in Serbia are developing and positioned for additional growth.
Our company, as one the global leaders in terms of mining and related health, safety and environmental standards, is well positioned to contribute to the Serbian mining sector. Together with the Government of Serbia and other industry players, we remain dedicated to changing the image of mining in Serbia and are proud to contribute to Serbia’s ambitious reform agenda.
As the highest grade lithium deposit in Europe, the Jadar deposit has the potential to provide battery grade lithium carbonate into the EV value chain for decades
In your opinion, will the revival of the mining sector in Serbia also create a shift in the prospects of young people, in terms of choosing their future profession and career path in Serbia?
– I have had the pleasure of meeting many talented young people in Serbia on several occasions.
We had the Jadar Project Internship Programme in 2018, which was launched in support of Rio Tinto’s global internship scheme, offering a range of exciting opportunities for Serbian graduates in the fields of geology, environment, engineering and health and safety. The programme was completed successfully after eight weeks, and the entire Jadar team took great pleasure in working and collaborating with the next generation of experts.
I also met the with the group of postgraduate students earlier this year and it was a great opportunity to speak with these young people about the most prominent drivers and values for Rio Tinto today, as one of the world’s leading mining companies, including issues of gender equality, diversity and inclusion. I also received many excellent questions about the project and my career, and I see organisations evolving in the future. To further answer the question, I believe that development of the mining sector will result in more young people being interested in the industry and, as someone who has had the opportunity to speak with Serbian students, I’m thrilled that more of them will be interested in the field, learning about the mining of the 21st century. They are hardworking, intelligent, results-driven and represent a valuable asset for the country, but also for companies operating within the sector.
The world is currently going through several major transitions. If we disregard the obvious COVID-19 influence on the ways of the world, one of the biggest transitions – necessitated by climate change – is the one to a low-carbon future. Could you explain what the low-carbon future includes and how the Jadar Project fits into this new paradigm?
– Rio Tinto believes strongly in a low-carbon future and that we have a role to play in this future. The metals and minerals we mine and process, such as copper and aluminium, are essential to tackling climate change and delivering the low-carbon society to which we all strive. Lithium and the Jadar project are key parts of this vision. We are also focused on the carbon footprint of our operations, with reduction targets in the short term and the ambition to reach net zero by 2050, as detailed in our climate change report.
In addition, the Jadar deposit is located on the doorstep of Europe’s automotive industry, which is rapidly transforming to EV’s on the back of the EU green transportation agenda. As the highest grade lithium deposit in Europe, this deposit has the potential to provide battery grade lithium carbonate to the EV value chain for decades.
Could you tell us more about the mine itself, in terms of the technology you will use?
– Jadar will be a modern underground mining operation that has significant use of technology. We are working on developing a digitally connected mine, including real-time monitoring of the operation – from the operation of the hoist, through to the drilling of the blast holes. Moreover, the use of Electric Battery Vehicles will progressively be implemented – as technology continues to advance.
Jadar is a technically complex project, with the integration of an underground mine, new processing facility and waste management solution. All this needs to be designed, engineered and constructed carefully. As one of the largest mining companies in the world, we have amassed considerable experience globally and have partnered with global leaders in technology and engineering, which we are bringing to the project. We are also working to understand, mitigate and minimise our environmental impacts, while maximising local benefits. We have Serbian and international experts in different disciplines (from mining to processing to communities), working together on designing and developing this modern and innovative project. We are also proud of our safety record, which counts over 700,000 safe working hours to date, without an injury requiring medical treatment. Our goal remains zero injuries and for everyone to go home safe and well to their family and friends at the end of every shift. This not just a personal value of mine, but also a Rio Tinto value.
We are working constantly to ensure the continuation of work activities on the Jadar Project in full compliance with all government regulations and recommendations related to health and safety at work
The area of Loznica is known for its rich cultural heritage. Paulje is a prehistoric necropolis located just 12 km from Loznica. How do you handle this aspect of the location?
– We are investing in cultural heritage protection in line with the Serbian legal framework and in 2007 we initiated early screening of Jadar’s cultural heritage. A desktop study of the known cultural heritage was produced by the Department for Archaeology (University of Belgrade), in cooperation with the Museum of Jadar.
The first partnership project we had with the Museum of Jadar focused on the Bronze Age Paulje necropolis. Twelve tumuli were excavated and over 120 artefacts were recovered with Jadar Project support from 2010 to 2015. An exhibition of the Paulje Bronze Age cultural heritage was organised in Loznica in 2014, with exhibits from the 2010 – 2015 excavations shown for the first time.
A comprehensive field research programme was initiated in 2016, in order to establish the cultural heritage baseline, to support an impact assessment and planning of recovery that need to be finalised before commencement of the project construction. Traditional archaeological research methodologies were combined with cutting-edge research technologies, such as the high-resolution LiDAR aerial survey. One new location dating from late Middle Ages was identified below the church of St. George the Martyr in the village of Gornje Nedeljice. Findings included traces of fireplaces and ceramics in by-products of iron processing, all of which are being preserved for historical purposes.
One of the tumuli discovered in 2019 contained numerous findings, including a finely engraved bracelet, elongated pins and even a piece of amber. The work will continue through the study phase, in order to excavate, analyse and conserve all findings from the Paulje and Gornje Nedeljice locations that will be exhibited to the public once excavations have been finalised.
You mentioned your cooperation with the Government of Serbia, the local authorities and the local community in Loznica. What does this cooperation encompass?
– We have been working closely with the Serbian government and local officials from the beginning of the project, to ensure the project moves forward responsibly and in a manner that benefits the surrounding communities. A new mineral, a new process technology and a new market all require careful considerations in order for Jadar to become an enduring, sustainable operation. We have to ensure that our stakeholders understand what we are doing and how it will benefit the local economy, provide jobs, develop skills and contribute to Serbian society. In this regard, we are in regular communication and connected with our stakeholders regarding project developments and our approach is transparent.
For example, in Loznica and Brezjak we organise regular ‘Open Days’ events, which provide an opportunity for the local community and key stakeholders to engage directly with Rio Tinto experts and consultants, ask good questions and learn more about the project and its impacts. This is an effective way to share information with local communities regarding various aspects of the project and to provide technical details. From 2019 to date, we have held over 18 events on the topics of environmental studies, water quality, air quality, noise pollution, biodiversity, spatial planning, cultural heritage and land ownership topics.
Open Day events will remain our regular activity and we will continue to engage with local communities to ensure they understand the project completely. The strong support of the local government in Loznica, as well as the communities around the deposit, has been – and will remain – fundamental for our ability to develop the Jadar project.
Our goal remains zero injuries and for everyone to go home safe and well to their family and friends at the end of every shift. This not just a personal value of mine, but also a Rio Tinto value
To conclude, we cannot finish this interview without mentioning the pandemic. How have you been handling the COVID-19 situation?
– The world is witnessing an unprecedented global pandemic and our thoughts are with the people and families impacted by the virus. Many of our business partners and community members are playing a vital role on the frontline of containing the outbreak. As a company with a long-standing relationship with all of them, we have allocated a donation of 20,000 euros to the Red Cross in Loznica and 20,000 euros to the Red Cross in Belgrade. Also, over fifty per cent of Jadar employees contributed to the volunteer initiative Donate and Duplicate, resulting in a total joint donation of our company and employees of 10,000 euros to UNICEF in Serbia. Besides this, we have a long term community investment COVID-19 response on Jadar that will provide support to the local community, focusing on three areas; critical materials and supplies, public health (supporting vulnerable groups) and mitigation of the negative economic impacts of COVID-19.
On the more operational level, we are working constantly to secure the continuation of work activities on the Jadar Project in full compliance with all government regulations and recommendations in relation to health and safety at work. Our first and most important goal is to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our people, contractors and surrounding communities while ensuring business continuity and complying with the requirements set by both the Government of Serbia and Rio Tinto.