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Rio Tinto has announced that the first production from its new lithium mine in the Jadar Valley, Serbia, has been pushed back by at least a year due to slow progress in obtaining the necessary licenses for an environmental assessment.

The delay means that the first saleable production from the project will be available by 2027, rather than 2026 as first projected. Progress on the mine had also been curtailed by a sustained protest movement objecting to Rio Tinto’s Jadar lithium project, and Zijin Mining’s recently opened Čukaru Peki copper and gold mine, which they claim will pollute land and water in the Balkan nation.

The prime minister of Serbia, Ana Brnabić, has said that this April’s general election will decide whether Rio can develop the mine.

“I think it is a decision for the future, and I believe it would be smarter, better, and fairer if it is brought by the political elites that will lead the country in the next four years,” she told Reuters last week.

In response to these concerns, Rio Tinto released a statement: “We fully understand the concerns amongst some Serbian stakeholders about environmental impacts, and we will continue to engage in demonstrating the project has developed mitigation solutions in the project plan.”

Rio’s lithium push

If the project goes ahead, Jadar will become one of the biggest lithium mines in the world, with a construction cost estimated at $2.4bn. Rio Tinto has estimated that over its 40-year life, the mine will produce 2.3 million tonnes of battery-grade lithium carbonate and 160,000 tonnes of boric acid annually. Both of these are critical to developing lithium-ion batteries and renewable technology.

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By GlobalData

While most other diversified miners have not invested heavily in the commodity, Rio Tinto’s chief executive Jakob Stausholm believes that the company can exploit a looming supply gap by moving quickly. As a result, Rio has invested heavily in the sector. Last month they agreed an $825m purchase of the Salar del Rincón lithium project in the Salta province of Argentina.