(Bloomberg) — Prices for lithium, the building block of electric-vehicle batteries, shot to a record this year, amplifying concerns there won’t be enough of the metal to fuel the switch away from combustion engines. In that climate, now should be a prime time to build a mine.
Rio Tinto Group is finding out otherwise. Within months of unveiling plans for a $2.4 billion mine in western Serbia, local opponents organized a movement that’s rocked the government and brought cities to a standstill as thousands of protesters march in the streets. Authorities subsequently suspended a land-use plan for the proposed mine, though they didn’t reject the project completely.
“The entire Jadar project is just another way for multinational companies, with the help of our state, to make profit and cause damage to the people of Serbia,” said Slavisa Miletic, an activist living near the planned mine.
The opposition Rio faces is replicating around the world, and industry executives consider it their biggest challenge going forward. Southern Copper Corp. is struggling to get government support for a controversial $1.4 billion project in Peru, and Lithium Americas Corp. was taken to U.S. federal court over its planned mine in Nevada.
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