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Rio Tinto has invested nearly $US200 million ($277 million) to progress the Jadar lithium-borate project in Serbia to the next stage of development.

The funding will primarily cover the feasibility study and detailed engineering designs, as well as permitting and land acquisition, which are set to be complete by the end of next year in line with the project schedule.

The deposit, which was discovered by Rio Tinto geologists in 2004, contains high-grade mineralisation of both boron and lithium and supports a long-life operation for both products.

The mining giant has since completed detailed exploration of the deposit, which is near Loznica in western Serbia. Drilling results will be incorporated into an update of the Jadar geological model.

Rio Tinto’s planned development includes an underground mine, industrial processing facility and all associated infrastructure.

Once complete, the Jadar project has the potential to supply a significant amount of industrial products for lithium batteries used in electric vehicles and energy storage facilities.

Jadar also supplies borate, which are used to manufacture detergents, cosmetics and other popular consumer goods.

“Rio Tinto’s lithium project pipeline is an important part of our vision to pursue opportunities which are part of the transition to a low-carbon future,” Rio Tinto energy and minerals chief executive Bold Baatar said.

“We look forward to working closely with the Government of Serbia over the next 18 months as we develop and validate our understanding of the project to the point (that) we can seek a final investment decision by the board of Rio Tinto.”

The company has also started commissioning its lithium demonstration plant in the United States, which extracts lithium from waste rock at the company’s boron mine in California.

This plant has the potential to produce 10 tonnes per year of lithium-carbonate required for rechargeable batteries for electric vehicles and consumer electronics.