Setback for Rio at Serbian Lithium Project

In its Tuesday exploration and production release, Rio Tinto revealed that rising opposition had forced it to push back the timeline for first saleable production at its $US2.4 billion Serbia lithium project.

Instead of 2026, 2027 is now the tentative date and one that will almost certainly come under pressure as opposition in Serbia shows no sign of easing.

Rio admitted that it faces delays in key approvals and protests over environmental concerns for the project

“(A)s a result of delays in the approval of the Exploitation Field Licence (EFL), which is a prerequisite to publish the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and commence the consultation process, we are revising development timelines. Based on current estimates and subject to receiving all relevant approvals, permits and licences, first saleable production is expected to be no earlier than 2027 (previously 2026),” Rio said on Tuesday.

The lithium-borates project near Loznica in the western Jadar valley will position the Anglo-Australian miner as Europe’s largest lithium supplier for at least next 15 years amid a boom in electric vehicle sales.

The mine is facing opposition from environmental activists and local communities over concerns of environmental damage, forcing the local municipality last year to scrap a plan to allocate land for the facility.

The Balkan nation will decide whether Rio can proceed with developing the mine after a general election in April, its prime minister told Reuters earlier this month.

“We fully understand the concerns amongst some Serbian stakeholders about environmental impacts and we will continue to engage to demonstrate the project has developed mitigation solutions in the project plan,” Rio said in a statement.

In December, Rio moved to extend its lithium involvement with a binding agreement to acquire the Rincon lithium project in Argentina from Rincon Mining for $825 million.

“Rincon is one of the largest undeveloped lithium brine projects in the world, located in the heart of the lithium triangle in Salta Province.”

Rio shares drifted 0.2% higher on the ASX yesterday to $109.91.

About Glenn Dyer

Glenn Dyer has been a finance journalist and TV producer for more than 40 years. He has worked at Maxwell Newton Publications, Queensland Newspapers, AAP, The Australian Financial Review, The Nine Network and Crikey.

View more articles by Glenn Dyer →