The gift of diamonds : Rio Tinto presents Bunder diamond project to India
Mining giant Rio Tinto has announced that it will present a substantial gift to India, the gift of the Bunder diamond project. The project will be handed over to the Government of Madhya Pradesh following a comprehensive review.
Back in August 2016, Rio Tinto announced it would not proceed with the development of Bunder due to commercial considerations and would be seeking to close all project infrastructure. Under a Government of Madhya Pradesh order signed in January 2017, the Government will accept ownership and take on responsibility for the Bunder assets.
The inventory of assets and associated infrastructure handed over to the Government comprises all land, plant, equipment and vehicles at the Bunder project site. The inventory will also include diamond samples recovered during exploration. This approach will assist the Government to package the assets if it were to proceed with an auction process for the Bunder mineral rights.
Rio Tinto Copper & Diamonds chief executive Arnaud Soirat said “Our exit from Bunder is the latest example of Rio Tinto streamlining its asset portfolio. It simplifies our business, allowing us to focus on our world-class assets.
“We believe in the value and quality of the Bunder project and support its future development, and the best way to achieve that is to hand over the assets to the Government of Madhya Pradesh.
“Rio Tinto has long and enduring ties with India and we continue to see the nation as an important market for our metals and minerals and as a key hub for Rio Tinto’s business services.”
Rio Tinto remains committed to its Diamonds business and the Indian diamond industry through its world-class underground mines, the Argyle diamond mine in Australia and the Diavik diamond mine in Canada. Rio Tinto continues to enjoy a strong partnership with the Indian diamond industry, with more than 250,000 diamond cutters and polishers employed in processing Rio Tinto diamonds.
What is the Bunder diamond project?
Located 500 kilometres southeast of Delhi, the Bunder diamond projected is (until it is handed over to the Government of Madhya Pradesh) by Rio Tinto through Rio Tinto Exploration Limited.
The Bunder pipes were discovered way back in 2004, with a prospective licence being granted in 2006. Rio Tinto has been actively exploring diamonds in India since 2001, with the Bunder project being one of over 40 lamproites pipes and kimberlites discovered in India.
Following the prospective licence grant in 2006, Rio Tinto started an Order of Magnitude Study, which indicated the pipes being amenable to both open pit mining and diamond processing technology. Capital and operating costs were also estimated for a nominal production rate of five million tonnes per annum.
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British Lithium Pressured Due To Calls for Electric Cars
The British demand for lithium is set to reach 75,000 tonnes by 2035 as the government works towards their ban on the sale of high-polluting diesel and petrol vehicles within the UK. This comes as automakers worldwide continue to insist on the benefits electric vehicles will have on slowing the rate of climate change.
It is estimated that the UK will require 50,000-60,000 MT of lithium carbonate a year by 2035 for battery production to satisfy government needs. This is assuming production remains at 1.2 million vehicles per year, and the amount of lithium required does not increase.
British Lithium, which hopes to begin constructing a quarry to produce 20,000 MT of lithium carbonate a year in a $400 million investment, are not without competitors, both within the UK and abroad.
Competition For Lithium Rises In Europe
After only five years after its initial launch, Cornish Lithium is setting its sights on becoming a UK powerhouse in mining lithium, aiming to begin commercial production in under four years. Jeremy Wrathall, a former investment banker and current managing director of Cornish Lithium, had the future in mind when founding the company.
“In 2016, I started to think about the electric vehicle revolution and what that would mean for metal demand, and I started to think about lithium,” he said in an interview with AFP. “A friend of mine mentioned lithium being identified in Cornwall, and I just wondered if that was a sort of unrecognised thing in the UK.”
Lithium was first discovered in Cornwall around 1864 and has not been mined again since 1914 when it was produced as an ingredient in fireworks. Now, however, Cornish Lithium is reportedly in the testing stage to see if the metal can be produced commercially to meet the growing demand required for the electric car sector.
Despite Cornwall’s close historic ties to mining lithium, Wrathall insists that the project is purely commercial.
Cornish Mining Revival For Lithium Production
“It’s not a mission that drives me to the point of being emotional or romantic,” he says. “It’s vitally important that we do get this technology otherwise Europe has got no lithium supply.”
The European Commission has also stated their goal to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2035 to aid the environment. That being said, the majority of lithium extraction currently relies on power provided by environmentally damaging fossil fuels─a slight contradiction.
Alex Keynes, from the Brussels-based lobby group Transport & Environment, is adamant that mining for lithium should be done sustainably.
“Our view is that medium-to-long term, the majority of materials including lithium should come from efficient and clean recycling.
“Europe from a strategic point of view should be looking at securing its own supply of lithium.”
Despite growing competition from abroad, British Lithium Chairman, Roderick Smith, continues to place importance on the mining of lithium within the UK.
“Imagine what the UK economy would look like if we lost our automotive industry,” Smith says. “The stakes are high for the UK.”
Smith expects the UK to compete with other European countries to secure a lithium battery plant in the near future.