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No Green And Digital Transitions Without Mining

A joint, collaborative approach is required to achieve a sustainable future

Electrifying transport and developing sustainable batteries are vital components of the energy transition. Electric vehicles and energy storage need batteries, and batteries need materials like lithium.

Serbia’s Jadar Valley is home to one of the world’s most significant lithium deposits. And while the world is rushing towards decarbonisation with lithium at the centre of that effort, the Jadar Project remains on hold in Serbia.

Marijanti Babic is Country Head for Rio Tinto’s activities in Serbia, which centre around the Jadar lithium and borates project. She describes Jadar as a perfect project: a great resource that can be mined sustainably, which is why we start by asking her what makes the Jadar reserves significant and worth developing?

― The world desperately needs critical raw materials to support the green transition. Both lithium and borates are vital materials that play a significant role in energy storage and renewable technologies, which are set to help the world reduce its usage of fossil fuels.

The Jadar Project has an abundance of both lithium and borates, and we are confident those minerals can be mined sustainably. Jadar and mining generally must adhere to the highest environmental standards for water, air, waste and the protecting of livelihoods. We must also meet and exceed community expectations. This project could also deliver economic benefits locally and nationally – but not at the expense of the environment and local communities. The challenges we face in Serbia are not unique to Serbia. This is a challenge being faced in the development of all critical minerals in Europe. Working together with all stakeholders is vital to address the supply shortage that threatens the success of green transition. This isn’t something that any company will solve on its own.

We’ve already seen a change in the attitudes of policymakers towards mining. In the EU, for instance, they are speeding up the passage of legislation while demanding higher standards and transparency in battery value chains. Can the Western Balkan region keep up?

― It certainly can. In Serbia we have great resources, exceptional experts, significant potential investments and solid legislation, but I also see areas that all stakeholders should be aware of. Policymakers have recognised that the mining industry plays a crucial role in delivering the green and digital transitions.

The fast-track permitting and prioritising of certain materials and approaches to projects is encouraging. However, the industry needs more clarity before making the huge investments required. It takes 10 to 15 years to open a new mine and that requires significant capital investments. It is important that policymakers, investors and the public understand the mining timeframe – from discovery, via permitting, execution and construction, to becoming operational.

The World Bank predicts that 500% more minerals like graphite, lithium and cobalt are needed by 2050 to construct the required green technologies, like wind, solar and geothermal power, and energy storage

The second thing that I think is crucial is social acceptance. Trust and credibility are key to the future of mining in Europe. People want a green transition and a greener future – but what they don’t understand is that mining is needed to do that. We are aware of the policy versus community realities, so we need to listen and better help explain things. Governments can raise awareness about the benefits of mining and engage in community outreach. It is up to both the industry and authorities to work together to regain community trust and showcase the benefits for society of mining and refining.

You have said that strong relationships between all stakeholders are necessary for sustainable mining. Does this also apply to the region?

― Stakeholder relationships must be based on accountability, respect for sustainability standards and open communication. By electrifying transport, we have entered a new chapter in striving to save our planet. The world is experiencing a new industrial revolution, with a new economic value chain growing rapidly in the form of e-mobility. Lithium batteries are key to the energy transition and e-mobility. The full value chain needs to be green: sustainable, with low impacts both environmentally and socially. There are a lot of challenges that will need to be managed, as well as a lot of opportunities. Partnerships will be crucial in seizing opportunities in the electric vehicle (EV) industry. There is still more work to be done, and the wider industry should act together to unlock green transition possibilities.

The numbers are huge: the World Bank predicts that 500% more minerals like graphite, lithium and cobalt are needed by 2050 to construct the required green technologies, like wind, solar and geothermal power, and energy storage. EVs are projected to account for 50% of light vehicles on the road by 2030, meaning a surge in the world’s lithium consumption from 900,000 to 2.2 million tons. The green transition requires the development of more than 25 new lithium mines over the next six years. It is estimated that 1.1 trillion euros will be invested in e-mobility worldwide by 2030. Green transition is a global effort, and similar to decarbonisation, which is not constrained by borders, value chain opportunities are available to innovative and competitive companies regardless of where they come from. The Balkans has a prime opportunity to be an integral part of that value chain.

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