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The World Wants More Lithium But Doesn’t Want More Mines

  • Rio Tinto’s lithium project in Serbia running into roadblocks
  • Industry facing more opposition just as commodity prices zoom
People block the highway to protest against Rio Tinto’s plan to open a lithium mine, in Belgrade, on Dec. 11.
People block the highway to protest against Rio Tinto’s plan to open a lithium mine, in Belgrade, on Dec. 11.Photographer: Oiver Bunic/AFP/Getty Images
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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.