Rio Tinto CEO concerned about Serbian PM’s comments on lithium project

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 courtesy of Rio Tinto)

Rio Tinto’s chief executive said on Tuesday he was concerned about the Serbian prime minister’s comments against the company’s lithium project, in his first remarks after Belgrade revoked the global mining company’s exploration licences.

Bowing to environmentalists, Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic pulled the plug on Rio’s lithium project last week and accused Rio of providing insufficient information to communities about the project.

“We obviously are very concerned about the comments made by the prime minister,” Chief Executive Jakob Stausholm told Reuters in an interview.

Stausholm was speaking after the company reached an agreement with Mongolia to end a long-running dispute over the $6.925 billion expansion project for the Oyu Tolgoi copper-gold mining project.

“I’m very proud of what we’ve done there (in Serbia). We have always followed the laws and regulation in Serbia as we focused on that amazing project,” he said.

“Right now we are just trying to take care of our people in the country,” he said, adding he had nothing further to say about Serbia.

Rio is reviewing the legal basis for the decision and could sue Serbia as it tries to salvage the $2.4 billion project.

The company committed to the Serbian project last year, as global miners pushed for the metals needed for the green energy transition, including lithium, which is used to make electric vehicle batteries.

The mine was slated to produce enough lithium to power 1 million electric vehicles, in addition to boric acid, used in ceramics and batteries, and sodium sulphate, used in detergents.

At full capacity, the mine was expected to produce 58,000 tonnes of refined battery-grade lithium carbonate per year, making it Europe’s biggest lithium mine by output.

(By Ernest Scheyder and Praveen Menon; Editing by Chris Reese)

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