Rio Tinto’s licence for $2.4 billion lithium project revoked by Serbia

Rio Tinto’s US$2.4 billion Jadar lithium project has been halted by the Serbian Government amid protests from a range of environmental groups.

“All decisions (linked to the lithium project) and all licences have been annulled,” Serbia’s Prime Minister Ana Brnabic told reporters after a government session yesterday. “As far as project Jadar is concerned, this is an end.”

The Anglo-Australian mining giant said it was ‘extremely concerned’ by Serbia’s decision to revoke its licence for the major project, which would have made Rio a top 10 lithium producer had it been completed.

The company committed to the project last year as part of a global push towards metals required for the clean energy transition. Lithium is the key component in electric vehicle batteries.

However, the project has faced sustained environmental opposition in Serbia. Thousands of people blocked roads last year in protest against the government’s backing of the project, demanding Rio leave the country.

The ruling government is under pressure ahead of a general election in April and has previously lost support for its pro-mining stance. Tensions between Serbia and Australia are also high following the controversial deportation of tennis star Novak Djokovic from Australia over the country’s COVID-19 entry rules.

“A compromise will be probably reached after the elections, so that there could be a renegotiation of royalties or value-sharing,” said a Rio shareholder, who declined to be named.