Major Miners' Battle to Get Into Batteries Steps Up a Notch

11 Aug 2017

The world’s biggest miners’ determination to muscle into the burgeoning battery market stepped up a notch with Rio Tinto Group reporting breakthroughs in cracking the technology needed to unlock its giant lithium project in Serbia that could meet 10 percent of global demand.

Tests at a research facility in a converted shipping container in Australia have successfully produced lithium products from samples from the Jadar deposit, the company said Friday. It’s aiming to bring the mine in Serbia into production as soon as 2023 to tap soaring demand for the metal used in batteries for electric vehicles and power storage.

“There has been, through the phases, a number of breakthrough steps,” Simon Trott, Rio’s salt, uranium and borates division managing director, told reporters at the facility in Melbourne. “The key is that we’re producing lithium carbonate that’s to a specification that we are very confident” will meet customer requirements, he said.

Rio joins its largest competitors BHP Billiton Ltd. and Glencore Plc in preparing to meet rising demand for the metals needed to make the batteries. The sector also will offer a major boost to copper, cobalt and nickel, Glencore’s Chief Executive Officer Ivan Glasenberg said Thursday, while BHP on Wednesday flagged plans to target the battery market with specialist nickel products.

Jadar, about 140 kilometers (87 miles) west of Belgrade, is among the world’s largest lithium deposits, Rio said last month. The mine would be among the word’s top three sources of lithium and well positioned for a developing battery market in Europe, according to Trott.

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