Jadarite Mineral “Kryptonite” Expected to Generate Super Profits at Rio Tinto
Buried beneath the Jadar River valley in the Serbian countryside is a mineral that eerily resembles kryptonite, the fictional green crystal that undermines Superman’s powers.
More than a decade ago, a mineralogist at the Natural History Museum in London was commissioned by bewildered geologists at Rio Tinto to analyze this strange substance they had unearthed a few years earlier near the Bosnian border.
Much to the delight of the Rio PR team, Dr Chris Stanley discovered that the chemical compound – sodium boron boron silicate hydroxide – met the description of kryptonite used by the nemesis of Superman Lex Luthor in the 2006 movie Superman Returns.
Going Green: Jadarite’s chemical compound (right) matches Superman’s nemesis Lex Luther’s description of kryptonite
The big difference – aside from not being the makings of comic book capers – is that this mineral is white and was contained in chunks of gray rock.
It’s called Jadarite and looks to be the next big source of money for Rio Tinto, which rushes to cash in on the global electric car revolution as internal combustion engines are replaced by batteries.
Rio discovered jadarite in 2004 and bet £ 1.7 billion on extracting this little-known substance.
Jadarite, which Rio named after the Jadar Valley in western Serbia, is a unique, high-quality mineral compound of lithium and borates that has not been found anywhere else in the world.
Borates are crystallized salts that contain boron, which is used in fertilizers and heat-resistant glass for smartphones, as well as materials for wind farms and solar panels.
Lithium, of course, is a key component in lithium-ion electric car batteries.
For the past few years, scientists from Rio in a suburban lab or from Melbourne, Australia, have been trying to figure out how to process this compound to produce lithium and borates economically and on a large scale.
After having “cracked the code”, according to Rio, all that is missing is a mine to unearth it.
The miner has already pledged £ 1.7bn for a site near the Jadar River, which he says is set to become Europe’s largest lithium supplier for at least the next 15 years.
He is currently awaiting approval from the Serbian government to begin construction and is negotiating with a local farmer to purchase a few hundred fields spanning the 400-hectare site.
Jadarite – discovered by mining giant Rio Tinto in Siberia, has many similarities to kryptonite, the fictional green crystal that undermines Superman’s powers
But if all goes according to plan, it hopes to start construction next year and production by 2026. Once operational, Rio expects to be able to extract 58,000 tonnes of jadarite per year, which will be enough for around 1 million batteries. of electric cars.
Sinead Kaufman, originally from Waterford Crystal home in south-eastern Ireland, oversees the project from Perth and studied geology at the University of Birmingham before moving to Perth with Rio 16 years ago.
Kaufman, who runs Rio’s diamond-to-salt mining empire, flies to Serbia on Saturday to see the site for the first time.
She said: “Jadarite is amazing because it was found by geologists at Rio Tinto in 2004. When they found it, they had no idea what it was because no one had ever seen it. before – it is a unique mineral.
“It looks like a gray rock with a bunch of white spots on it, but each of those white spots is something very special.”
Mining, oil and gas giants have all been busy polishing their environmental credentials, amid increasing pressure from politicians, environmental groups and big investors to tackle climate change and switch from traditional fossil fuels to greener technologies.
While it is crucial that they do their part to meet the net zero carbon emissions targets, there is also a huge amount of money to be made.
Kaufman said demand for lithium is expected to grow 25 to 30 percent per year over the next decade, as diesel and gasoline cars are phased out around the world.
Last month, BHP signed a lucrative deal with Tesla boss Elon Musk (pictured) to supply nickel from its Kwinana refinery south of Perth, Australia.
“Lithium is really essential for the world’s transition to a low carbon economy,” she said. “It’s something that we know the world will need over the next few decades.
“You just can’t produce the world’s view of electrifying cars if you don’t have the equipment to make these batteries.”
But Rio is catching up. Rival BHP has for years exploited another key component in lithium-ion electric car batteries, nickel.
Last month, BHP signed a lucrative deal with Elon Musk to supply nickel to its Kwinana refinery south of Perth, Australia.
The silvery white metallic element is used to pack more energy into batteries and allows producers to reduce the use of cobalt, which is more expensive.
Nickel is also scarce, and Musk has promised a “giant contract for a long time” for a miner who can extract it while causing minimal damage to the environment.
At the annual “Diggers and Dealers” mining conference in Kalgoorlie, Australia this week, BHP announced plans to build new nickel mines and wind farms in Western Australia as it attempts to move away from the industry. fossil fuels.
But shortly before mining bosses showed their green credentials, there was a timely reminder that battery technology was in its infancy.
Firefighters had just spent the weekend trying to put out a fire in Tesla’s ‘Big Battery’ near Geelong in Victoria.
It is Australia’s largest lithium-ion battery and was built to supply electricity to the national grid. Since it was far too dangerous to spray water on a 13-ton battery, the 150 firefighters had to let it burn for three days, sending large plumes of toxic smoke into the air.
Investigators will now attempt to determine precisely what caused the fire.
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