The company will provide funding through the additional investment of almost $200 million primarily for the feasibility study to develop the lithium-borate Jadar project in Serbia.
The study includes the completion of detailed engineering designs, permitting and land acquisition by the end of 2021 in line with Rio’s initial schedule.
The Jadar project contains high-grade mineralization of boron and lithium from the mineral jadarite, a mineral unique to Serbia, which was discovered in 2004 by Rio Tinto geologists near the city of Loznica in Western Serbia.
Rio completed the detailed exploration of the jadarite deposit in February, and the deposit can support a long-life operation in the first quartile of operation costs for both boron and lithium.
The company added that the development of the project includes an underground mine, an industrial processing facility and all associated infrastructure, which has the potential to supply end-industrial products for lithium batteries used in electric vehicles and energy storage facilities, and also supply borate which is used in the manufacturing of detergents, cosmetics and other consumer goods.
“Rio Tinto’s lithium project pipeline is an important part of our vision to pursue opportunities which are part of the transition to a low-carbon future. We look forward to working closely with the government of Serbia over the next 18 months as we develop and validate our understanding of the project to the point when we can seek a final investment decision by the Board of Rio Tinto,” Bold Baatar, Rio Tinto energy & minerals chief executive, said.
Separately, Rio has started work on the commissioning of its lithium demonstration plant in the United States, which is extracting lithium from waste rock at its Boron mine in California. The company aims to produce 10 tonnes per year of lithium carbonate in its pilot scheme.
In October 2019, Rio Tinto said it was considering building a plant with an annual production of 5,000 tonnes of lithium at a cost of $50 million if their demonstration plant is successful following their study of extracting lithium from waste rock from the California mine.
Lithium is widely used as a battery material for new energy vehicles, and demand is expected to increase in the coming years. But a fall in consumption of lithium has caused prices to fall steadily over the past year.
Fastmarkets’ weekly price assessment for lithium carbonate, 99.5% Li2CO3 min, battery grade, spot price range exw domestic China was 37,000-41,000 yuan per tonne ($5,281-5,852) on Thursday July 30, unchanged from previous week but compared with 67,000-70,000 yuan per tonne on July 25, 2019.
Rio Tinto's lithium-borate Jadar project in Serbia is progressing to the feasibility study stage, the company said on Thursday July 30.