Rio Tinto adds time and money to Jadar lithium-borates project

By Myles McCormick
Published: Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Company allocates $20m to fund lithium project PFS; Serbia more attractive to FDI after legal reform.

Rio Tinto Minerals, the non-metallic division of Anglo-Australian mining behemoth, Rio Tinto Plc, has secured a licencing agreement and committed funding necessary to complete a prefeasibility study (PFS) at its Jadar lithium-borates project in Serbia by the end of 2017.

More than $20m will be invested in the project between now and late next year in order to complete the PFS and obtain a resource reserve certificate from the Serbian government.

Rio said that the planned work will assess the technical, environmental, economic and social viability of Jadar, the outcome of which will determine if it can be advanced to feasibility stage.

The latest investment of $20m comes on top of over $70m invested in the project by Rio to date.

"The funding supports our local team of experts and funds all aspects of the [PFS] work – equipment, personnel, geological, environmental and social obligations," a Rio spokesperson told IM.

The Serbian government recently passed a law on mining and geological exploration, which Rio said makes the country more attractive in terms of foreign direct investment in large mining projects.

"It creates greater efficiency," the spokesperson said. "It makes it easier to get foreign direct investment into the country."

Dragan Milosevic, managing director of consultancy, Serbia Mining, told IM that a key element of the new law was that it gives security of tenure. "It sets down various time limits for different things so that while you are exploring, no one else can come in and take the land," he said.

The project is based on the extraction of lithium and borates from jadarite, a mineral unique to Serbia, which was discovered in 2004 at the site and holds the same chemical composition as the fictional rock kryptonite.

Rio has declared an inferred inferred resource estimate of 125.3m tonnes jadarite at the site with a weighted average lithium oxide (Li2O) concentration of 1.8% and 16.2m tonnes boron trioxide (B2O3) for the deposit’s lower zone.

The company said that if it proceeds to development, Jadar could supply more than 10% of the world’s lithium demand.

The Rio spokesperson noted reaching operational capacity at the site would take several years, however, and would be dependent on a number of factors progressing according to plan. Milosovic predicted it would take five-to-six years from today to reach production, if the project is deemed feasible.

Rio already has a borates operation at Boron in Southern California, from which it supplies 30% of the world’s refined borates. It expects to produce 500,000 tonnes boric oxide in 2016.

Jadar would be the company’s first exposure to the lithium market.