As well as refining knowledge of the orebody, the pre-feasibility stage considers fundamental questions: how will we mine and process this resource? How will we take it to market? What will the impact be on the local area – people, environment and water resources?
In the case of jadarite, Richard Storrie said, the process of extracting the valuable lithium and borates is a key challenge: “It’s a new mineral, so the production process will be unique. We have been running pilot plants to help us understand the issues of scaling up to full production."
Pilot tests were carried out at Rio Tinto Borates' mining and refining operations in California and more recently at Rio Tinto's Growth & Innovation facilities in Bundoora, Australia. These will provide the design parameters to develop full-scale process facilities.
According to Richard, who has worked at Rio Tinto operations around the world, one of the most important challenges of a new project such as Jadar is communication: “We need to communicate clearly with local people and local and national government about the project, ensuring at every stage that what we’re doing is acceptable and within the boundaries agreed. So far we have built up a lot of trust – and we intend to maintain it.” The team at Rio Tinto Serbia, 90 per cent of whom are Serbian nationals, includes local geologists who have been there since the original discovery, as well as a communities expert who knows the area well.
An important part of the pre-feasibility study is the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA), which will be completed in 2018. The ESIA will look at the environmental and social impacts of the Jadar project. It will describe how Jadar will minimise and manage its environmental and social impacts, as well as maximise the positive benefits of the project.