Rio Tinto is preparing for a backlash.
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The Rio Tinto Limited (ASX: RIO) share price has struggled to elevate from 10-month lows following the continued weakness in iron ore prices.
However, the iron ore giant could soon be making “one of its biggest strategic pivots” to lithium.
Rio Tinto to ramp up exposure to battery materials
Back in July, Rio Tinto confirmed its $2.4 billion commitment to fund its Jadar lithium-borates project in Serbia.
The move would “scale up Rio Tinto’s exposure to battery materials, and demonstrate the company’s commitment to investing capital in a disciplined manner to further strengthen its portfolio for the global energy transition.”
The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) reported that Rio Tinto’s new head of minerals, Sinead Kaufman, has just returned home from a trip to Serbia.
“While in the Serbian capital Belgrade, she met with Prime Minister Ana Brnabić to personally update her about how the project’s environmental impact assessment was progressing.”
One of Kaufman’s immediate challenges is to overcome the mounting local scrutiny of building a new mine.
According to the SMH, local conservation groups and protests have attracted 130,000 signatures. Reportedly it has even raised “the prospect of a referendum on whether it should go ahead”.
If successful, Rio Tinto believes it will emerge as the “largest source of lithium supply in Europe for at least the next 15 years.”
Rio Tinto said that Jadar will be one of the largest industrial investments in Serbia, “contributing 1% directly and 4% indirectly to GDP.”
Assuming all things go to plan, the first saleable production is expected in 2026. This will ramp up to full production in 2029. At full capacity, the mine will produce approximately 58,000 tonne of lithium carbonate, 160,000 tonne of boric acid and 255,000 tonne of sodium sulphate annually.
Kaufman told the SMH that “even with that [Jadar], we see that EV demand will require another 40 Jadars to be built.”
“We see a strong demand for lithium in batteries in particular,” she added.
Rio Tinto share price snapshot
The Rio Tinto share price is down 6.86% year to date after sliding ~16% in August.
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Motley Fool contributor Kerry Sun has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool Australia’s parent company Motley Fool Holdings Inc. has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.