Rio Tinto calls for public dialogue on Jadar lithium project in Serbia after protests

Jadar is estimated to contain 10% of the world’s reserves of lithium, the primary raw material for the production of the batteries that power electric vehicles. Image from Rio Tinto.

Rio Tinto plans to re-engage with communities at its Jadar lithium project in Serbia after a municipality in the country scrapped a plan to allocate land for the mine, the Beta news agency reported, quoting the CEO of Rio’s Serbian arm.

The miner wants to develop the mine near Loznica in the western Jadar river valley, one of Serbia’s main agricultural hubs, responsible for around a fifth of total agricultural production.

Jadar is set to produce ~58,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate by 2029, which would make Rio Tinto one of the top 10 lithium producers in the world.

Last week, however, Loznica’s municipal assembly scrapped a plan which would allocate land for the project.

Beta’s report quoted Vesna Prodanovic as saying Rio plans to engage in a public dialogue about the project, which has stirred protests by environmental groups.

Related: The world wants more lithium but doesn’t want more mines

“We want to call for a public dialogue, to acquaint residents with all aspects of our project,” Beta quoted Prodanovic, CEO of Rio Sava Exploration.

Prodanovic said Rio also plans to “reconsider and possibly improve” technical solutions it wants to use for the mine.

In recent weeks, green groups have staged protests and blocked roads across the country, demanding authorities end the project, causing a political headache for the ruling coalition loyal to President Aleksandar Vucic ahead of April elections.

“The entire Jadar project is just another way for multinational companies, with the help of our state, to make profit and cause damage to the people of Serbia,” said Slavisa Miletic, an activist living near the planned mine.

“It is extremely difficult in such an intense anti-mining and negative campaign to have a reasonable debate on any topic,” Prodanovic told Beta news.

Prices for lithium, the building block of electric-vehicle batteries, shot to a record this year, amplifying concerns there won’t be enough of the metal to fuel the switch away from combustion engines.

The opposition Rio faces is replicating around the world, and industry executives consider it their biggest challenge going forward. Southern Copper Corp. is struggling to get government support for its controversial $1.4 billion Tia Maria project in Peru, and Lithium Americas Corp. was taken to US federal court over its planned mine in Nevada

(With files from Reuters and Bloomberg)