Through knee-deep snow, Marijana Petkovic climbed into a monastery located at the top of the mountainous region of Jadar in the Serbian province – where the world’s largest mines want to dig one of Europe’s largest lithium deposits.
Removing the key metal in the transformation of electric vehicles could go a long way in Serbia and help Europe find a more important way. But Petkovic, one of a group of activists against the planned mine, is focusing more on the threat to the fields below.
“The 22 villages below are completely lost,” said Petkovic, a schoolteacher near Gornje Nedeljice. “Lithium can make the whole world clean, and it can make Western Europe feel better. Here, it can cause malnutrition and ruin our lives. ”
In the wake of the temporary opposition to the project, which is owned by the Anglo-Australian mining group Rio Tinto, Loznica council this month rescinded the decision to establish a site to allow industrial development in the region, after several. great demonstrations.
The president of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic, who sponsors the mine, said it would not happen unless the country complied with it and environmental standards were met. “People can choose. . . I’m ready to listen to both sides, “he told the Financial Times in an interview last week.” If not [possible] we will not go there, ”he said.
Rio, which has pledged $ 2.4bn to build the mine, has vowed not to give up the development and has promised more talks with locals. Responding to media reports that the mine had been suspended, he said the project was “continuing”.
The first commercial production is predicted in 2026 and by 2029 the mine could produce 58,000 tons per year of lithium carbonate – enough to drive more than 1m electric vehicles.
To combat the locals it has renovated schools and sports facilities. It has also bought land with lobby.
Rio said the environment for 500m deep shafts, production facilities and waste storage facilities will be limited. The area must be visually impaired, according to Sinead Kaufman, a geologist leading the salt industry in Rio.
“It will be one of the most modern mines in the world built with the highest environmental standards,” he said.
But protesters and environmentalists believe the project will destroy the most beautiful and important fields. “There is no chance that the mine can produce lithium in a sustainable way,” said Savo Manojlovic, leader of Kreni Promeni (Go, Change), the largest group behind the protests. This is not like the green desire of the West. For us it is a matter of survival. ”
Demonstrations in Serbia highlight a major problem facing mining companies and policy makers as they transform into clean energy. Putting electricity on the global economy requires a lot of minerals such as copper, lithium and cobalt, but it is still very difficult to deal with and challenge new mines.
Serbia’s per capita economic reported that about a third of Western Europe and Belgrade expect lithium to become a major economy. Rio says the mine will contribute 1 percent directly and 4 percent indirectly to the rest of the country’s economy.
The government sees some benefits in making Jadar a component of batteries for mining from mining to EV production. Total economic power, plus other resources, could be in excess of € 10bn a year, up to 22 percent of GDP, the government says.
According to the document FT saw, Belgrade is thinking of the CATL of China, the world great battery maker and market share, investing € 2.5bn. Manufacturers of batteries such as Varta of Germany or InoBat of Slovakia, a Rio-backed company, could add another 1.5bn, government reviews show. A car manufacturer like Volkswagen could invest € 3bn in EV production.
The targets remain uncertain, according to some companies that Serbia hopes to attract. CATL could not be reached for comment. A VW architect said the company did not commit to any investment in Serbia, one of the largest in the region. Varta has no plans to retire from Serbia.
Manojlovic said any revenue from lithium could be greater than the amount of government and would not benefit the local people. “The mine will benefit the people of Serbia if the diamonds benefit the Congolese,” he said.
In addition to its economic impact, the mine will also have political consequences. Serbia is part of the Balkan power dispute between the EU, Russia and China. Lithium could allow Belgrade to benefit more from the EU, which lags behind China in the arms race, especially in Germany, where car manufacturers want to produce batteries locally instead of relying on Beijing.
Vucic indicated that he would work with the EU on the project.
“We have a good relationship with China – but talking about these tools and everything else (about the lithium project) we are ready to sign an agreement with the EU,” he said, adding that the exchange of Belgrade wanted the EU to be fully priced from mining to new vehicles.
Belgrade tried to direct the Jadar project but a series of protests caused Vucic to suspend it. Serbia is due to hold presidential and parliamentary elections in April and the environment is deeply political. Vucic visited Jadar this month and said it gave him a sense of magnitude for their refusal – to the satisfaction of those campaigning against the mine.
“Until recently, our war was on its own,” Petkovic said. “The demonstrations were very encouraging, they put us on a national scale. Vucic used to call us a group of country drunks – now they come kneeling down. “
Additional reports by Joe Miller in Frankfurt
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