It has been estimated that Serbia has the largest lithium reserves in Europe – the US economic website Bloomberg writes in the article titled “There May Be a Fortune Buried in a Forgotten Corner of Europe”.
The global hunt for lithium is afoot as companies look to cut fossil-fuel use. BloombergNEF estimates battery demand for lithium material will grow eightfold over the next 11 years.
Serbia’s estimated deposits are the largest in Europe and the insatiable appetite for batteries that power everything from iPhones to Tesla cars is prompting the likes of Rio Tinto Group to study the viability of mining it.
President Aleksandar Vucic in February called it “one of the biggest hopes for Serbia” and urged companies to speed up work to start production, Bloomberg writes.
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Bloomberg goes on to say that Serbia’s lithium lode, if it can be profitably extracted, is big enough to help the continent compete with Asian development, especially in China, the world’s third-largest producer of lithium and the top maker of lithium-ion batteries.
Rio Tinto, one of the world’s largest mining companies, and Australia-based explorer Jadar Lithium Plc are testing just how much lithium there is in Serbia. Rio Tinto declined to comment. Jadar Lithium, which includes a group of unknown investors represented by JPMorgan Chase & Co., declined to pinpoint exactly where they are looking.
The Czech Republic and Austria are also studying the potential of lithium mining. Romania is re-opening mines for rare earth minerals. And international companies are expanding battery production in the region, including Daimler AG and Johnson Matthey Plc in Poland.
Bloomberg goes on to say that with global lithium production up by about 25% in 2018, according to the USGS, assigning an accurate ranking for Serbia may be difficult, as there is still little concrete data on the country as exploration continues, said BNEF’s Sophie Lu. Bolivia, for example, has no production despite what might be the world’s largest reserves.
Bloomberg concludes that any lithium extraction is still at least three years away, Serbian authorities have also been advocating for the development of downstream activities, such as refining and battery production.
Opening a battery factory would be key to raising living standard, said Nenad Antic, deputy mayor of the town of Vranje, which is the closest town to the Jadar lithium exploration.