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Only solution is to form an independent body which will take a role in evaluating the Jadar project and its importance for Serbia

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Probably the only solution is to form an independent body, as Dr. Branislav Simonović stated in one text, composed of experts, representatives of the local community, the company and the state, which will take a role in evaluating the Jadar project and its importance for Serbia. After all, this is the standard that has been developed in the world, when it comes to large mining and other projects, writes Dr. Aleksandar Jovović, professor at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, University of Belgrade, in his author’s text for Energija Balkana. In order to maintain life on earth in conditions similar to today’s, already significantly disturbed due to climate change, it is necessary that renewable energy sources make up 90% of the energy mix by 2050, which would increase the installed capacity of renewable sources tenfold, and 80% of all vehicles would be electric (IRENA, 2023). The number of EVs is projected to grow from 3.4 million in 2020 to 150 million in 2050. This would lead to a tripling of electricity demand over the next three decades, raising concerns about the availability and affordability of the minerals and materials needed to make this transition. . This will make the energy sector the leading consumer of the so-called of critical raw materials, the value of which will increase from 30 billion in 2020 to almost 300 in 2040. The EU and the USA recognize 30, i.e. 35 critical raw materials, but nickel, copper, lithium and rare earth metals attract special attention due to their importance and challenges in securing sufficient quantities and have become a mandatory part of the energy transition plans of every country, because:
  • Exploitation is not simple;
  • Only a few countries have deposits;
  • There are no direct substitutes for them;
  • Only small amounts of materials are used in the end use, making them difficult to reuse;
  • Increasing supply is often prevented by large price fluctuations due to unbalanced supply and demand. For example, the price of lithium has been steadily increasing since the beginning of 2021 with a record on 11/14/2022. from 85,000 USD/t at the current price of 69,000 USD/t.

Action plan for critical raw materials

The EC has launched its Action Plan for Critical Raw Materials, as well as other projects that could be operational by 2025, including Horizon Europe to support research and innovation, and the development of international partnerships, to ensure the supply of critical materials that are not available in the EU. They include developing new mining technologies, expanding domestic sources of critical materials, improving materials and processing efficiency, accelerating product innovation and finding alternative materials, developing recycling technologies, and improving the sustainability of mining and processing operations. National organizations have been formed for the analysis of supply chains and the development of economically and environmentally acceptable production and recycling processes (e.g. Critical Materials Institute in the USA, German Rohstoffagentur, Geoscience, Australia, Geological Survey of Canada), and government funding programs (e.g. IRA in the USA of USD 369 billion and the EU industrial plan within the Green Deal with EUR 250 billion). Certain countries, such as Finland, Britain, Portugal, Germany and France, are rapidly developing projects for the exploitation of certain raw materials, e.g. of lithium, in order to gain strategic and economic advantage and profit. Of course, companies play a key role, with the top ten automakers planning to spend $1.2 billion by 2030 on EV development, batteries and materials. All this will lead to new projects, so it is crucial that all activities during the entire supply chain are dedicated to sustainable exploitation, safe working conditions, local economic development, respect for cultural and natural heritage.

Serbia’s chance in Europe’s industrial revolution

Today, Serbia lives and works in such a world, significantly affected by climate change. But also with the opportunity to become one of the most important countries in the energy transition, an integral part of the chain of production of the most important products of the present and near and far future. Serbia is potentially able to become part of Europe’s industrial revolution, but many developments surrounding the Jadar project threaten to keep it on the margins of success instead. Serbia’s potential in the production of batteries and electric vehicles is significant due to:
  • Own unique deposit of high-quality lithium, with quantities that currently place the project in one of the leading places in Europe;
  • Rich traditions in the field of mining and industrial processing;
  • Quality experts and researchers;
  • Industrial zones that can support the development of related industries;
  • Proximity to major OEMs.
To be clear, this is not only about mining, but about the comprehensive industrial process of processing extracted ore, delivery of raw materials and chemicals and their storage, waste disposal, discharge of waste water, shipment of products. All individual processes and all together have a certain impact on the environment and the people in it. But Rio Tinto, like the participants in this project, do not base their opinion on assumptions. For the purposes of creating various statutory impact assessments, as well as for the selection of technical solutions, more than 23,000 biological and physical-chemical analyzes of water, air, soil, numerous models of the spread of polluting components in the air, surface and underground water, soil, studies were performed water supply, monitoring and noise models, analysis of biodiversity, impact on climate change and the impact of climate change on the future of the project, analysis of disposal systems, possibilities of waste utilization. More than 500 million dollars have been invested in these researches and researches of the deposit itself in the last 20 years or so. However, this was the only way to assess the environment before mining activities, predict the impact during work and define measures to minimize the impact. The designers thereby improved the technological process and solutions, reduced the consumption of raw materials, looked for solutions for the generated waste, and reduced the risks of accidents. The obtained results were once shown to the citizens of Loznica and Brezjak, to about 20 so-called “Open doors”, on the topic of the environment, water quality, air, accidents, noise impact, biodiversity, spatial plan, cultural heritage and legal-property relations.

Project Jadar

In technical terms, the Jadar project is not very different from most mining industrial processes. All the technical solutions that are provided are also used in other locations, and in accordance with the best available techniques. However, since Jadarite is a unique mineral, a special process for extracting lithium from the mineral and obtaining three final products was developed, by combining already known processes. That process is protected by a patent, which represents a legal-commercial category, not a scientific-technical one, and exists only to protect against competition. If someone else ever tried to remake Jadarite they would either develop their own technology or have to buy the existing rights. The project itself consists of the exploitation of minerals in an underground mine, and then the extracted ore is subjected to mechanical crushing processes, and then the material comes to the processing plant, which is the heart of the system. Digestion processes in closed reactors, at low temperatures and using sulfuric acid, isolate future products, carry out the drying and refining process and obtain boric acid, lithium carbonate quality for the production of batteries and sodium sulfate. Negligible amounts of components are released into the air, far below the permitted ones. Wastewater is collected, recirculated and purified on three levels for both process and discharge needs. All raw materials and chemicals are known in the industrial world, so e.g. 0.4 million tons of sulfuric acid are used in Serbia, six million tons in Southeastern Europe, and seven million tons in Germany. The waste generated in the processing processes will be used as man-made raw material, as backfill of mining shafts and as raw material outside the plant. The unused part will be disposed of in a landfill, certainly the most environmentally impactful part of the project.

Politics, mistrust and ugly and dishonest accusations of a large number of experts

As a participant in the preparation of the mentioned studies, and as someone who did or used all the research carried out for the needs of the project and collaborated with the most eminent experts from various scientific and technological fields and designers of all professions (mining, mechanical, technological, electrical, construction, etc.) in in terms of project solutions, I have no doubt that this project is a significant positive step forward in terms of the approach to creating complex projects in our country after a long time. The implementation and management of the project is of course a separate topic, and if there is a social and political will to live in a developed and orderly world, there is no doubt that this phase of the project will also be as it should be. If we do not want modern civilization in our regions, even the simplest technical solutions are a danger for everyone. However, in these last almost four years of protests against the project, it has somehow crystallized that the project and the company have only conveniently served to rally the public in a political struggle. But it is much clearer that there is no trust of the community in the institutions of the system, which would monitor and evaluate the project itself in all life stages. The fairest thing would be to say so and then let the project live its life like other projects in Serbia and the world, without very ugly and unfair accusations of a large number of experts and organizations that have worked on the project for all these 20 years. Rio Tinto has been here since 2004, and until mid-2020 it was the project of the century in the Republic of Serbia. Then all of a sudden, in recent years, the citizens of Serbia have been bombarded with a mountain of inaccurate and deliberate untruths about the project, but also about mining and industrial production as a whole. It is not necessary to write here now about the history of mining in these areas, nor about the importance of industry for the development of the country, nor is it necessary to compare industry and intensive agriculture in terms of pollution levels, income, etc. However, giving up on industrial development, outlined in the development plans of all modern, democratic and developed countries, would set us back more than politics has set us back in many ways.

Dialogue at the professional level was missing

The project was abandoned for political reasons, without listening to science and profession, without any dialogue at the professional level, not about invented figures, but about what is found in studies and analyzes and calculations of thousands of pages, done by the leading scientific and design institutions in the country and the world, such as numerous members of the University of Belgrade, the University of Delft, Sheffield, the company’s research centers, renowned analyst and design houses, etc. It succumbed to the completely incorrect statements of individuals, which were again used by politicians at one point before some elections. The prescribed dialogue that applies to all projects has been forgotten, in accordance with the regulations that have been in force since the nineties of the last century, when most other countries did not even have them. The meeting at SAN was a glimmer of hope that dialogue would be possible, despite all the inaccuracies presented at it. But, unfortunately, the public discussion never started because the project was suspended.

The solution – to form an independent body to evaluate the project

It has been shown that the earlier dialogue at different levels has significantly improved the project itself, both technically and socially. Without that dialogue, nothing will be able to be improved even in society. We will come back faster than we thought both economically and democratically for centuries. Be that as it may, today we are prisoners of inaccurate data and the weakness of the system to deal with them. Therefore, probably the only solution is to form an independent body, as Dr. Branislav Simonović stated in one text, composed of experts, representatives of the local community, companies and the state, which will take a role in evaluating the project and its importance for Serbia. After all, it is a standard that exists developed in the world when it comes to large mining and other projects.
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