Opposition to international mining company Rio Tinto’s planned lithium mine in Serbia is growing, as local residents and NGOS raise concerns about the potential environmental impact of the project.
The Jadar project is set to turn Rio Tinto into one of the world's ten largest lithium producers. Demand for the metal is set to grow strongly in the coming years as it is an important input for electronic vehicle (EV) batteries as well as for electronics products.
In July, Rio Tinto committed $2.4bn to the Jadar project as the global mining company pushes into metals needed for the green energy transition, including lithium.
At an online presentation of the mining process, the CEO of Rio Sava Exploration, Serbia's subsidiary of the Rio Tinto Group, Vesna Prodanovic, said that the products from the Jadar mine in western Serbia would include lithium carbon boric acid and sodium sulphate.
As reported by N1, she added that the company aims to improve the life of the locals, to establish a partnership and make those who would remain in the area realise the project would be safe for their life and health.
“The key thing is that 99.95% of sulphuric acid will be used in these reactions (processing of jadarite). So the acid is depleted as part of this reaction, and there is no residual sulphuric acid,“ Wayne Sentans, the head of processing at the Jadar project, said during the online presentation.
But, the latest presentation comes amid protests by Serbian environmental activists against lithium mining. Opposition to the project is growing because of concerns about possible environmental damage and protest rallies have become more frequent. In April, thousands gathered in Belgrade to protest against widespread pollution in the country and against the lithium mine near Loznica.
More broadly, there is concern in Serbia that the government has been giving foreign companies concessions including exemptions from some environmental rules to persuade them to invest in the country.
Among the opponents of the project are the right-wing eurosceptic Dosta ie Bilo (Enough is Enough) movement, which in a statement earlier this month accused Germany and other EU countries of viewing Serbia as “an excellent source of quality cheap labour and parking lot for dirty technologies where they can do everything they can't do at home”.
“At the moment, Europe practically does not dig lithium, although Portugal, Germany and other countries have it, because the technology is dirty and very harmful to the human environment … Lithium in the Jadra Valley is critically important for the German car industry, whose all new models from 2026 will be electric. The environment in Germany is important to Germany, but not in Serbia,” it added.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Mining and Energy Zorana Mihajlovic attacked the protests against the Jadar lithium mining plan as “political” rather than environmental, and pointed out that with the launch of the mine, Serbia has the potential to create an entire value chain through to electrical vehicles.
A petition calling for a ban on the project and associated metal processing complex in the Jadar Valley because of pollution concerns received more than 110,400 signatures in Serbia by June 10.
The Serbian government has announced a referendum on the Jadar project that will allow the Serbian population to decide whether it goes ahead, but it first plans to complete a study on the project. “The citizens will have the final say in the referendum, but they must know all the data,” said Mihajlovic in June.