InoBat from Slovakia signed preliminary agreements with the Government of Serbia on the construction of a gigafactory that would manufacture and recycle batteries. The firm counts Rio Tinto among its investors, so activists from the SEOS environmentalist group said they would relaunch protest rallies that started more than two years ago against the mining giant’s lithium project in the country.
InoBat Auto, based in Bratislava, said it has signed protocols and declarations of intent with the Government of Serbia for the construction of a gigafactory for the manufacturing and recycling of battery cells for electric vehicles and stationary energy storage. The firm pointed out it is one of European countries that it is considering for the project.
“If finalized, the relevant Serbian authorities will work with InoBat to secure all of the permits and licenses required for the sustainable construction and operation of the gigafactory. The Serbian government will also provide financial and material support to ensure the successful development of the facility. InoBat has already established its Serbian subsidiary, InoBat Auto Beograd,” the announcement adds.
Serbia reportedly commits to EUR 419 million in state aid
The startup said that Serbia offered financial and material support. According to Reuters, the government has agreed to provide funding of up to a stunning EUR 419 million, including grants and tax incentives. Strangely enough, the government in Belgrade didn’t publish any information about the potential deal.
The Government of Serbia offered no details on the agreements announced by InoBat
Nevertheless, InoBat quoted Prime Minister Ana Brnabić as saying that the preliminary agreement “is an important milestone” that would position Serbia “as a great contributor to sustainable and green future and among leading European players” in the strategic sector.
“We will continue to work resolutely on further development in order to create an [sic!] even better conditions for the well-being of both our citizens and everyone who lives and does business in Serbia,” she stated, according to the Slovakian company.
Deal brings Rio Tinto controversy back into spotlight
Rio Tinto, one of the investors in InoBat, could become a sticking point regarding the plans for a battery plant. Namely, the Anglo-Australian mining giant has caused outrage in Serbia with environmental and other controversies regarding its lithium mining and processing project in the Jadar area near Loznica in the country’s west.
Faced with mass protests and other forms of public pressure, Prime Minister Ana Brnabić was the one who declared in January that the government is halting the project and canceling all permits. “Rio Tinto absolutely didn’t provide enough information to the people in Jadar, Rađevina, in local places and local villages. It also didn’t provide enough information to the Government of the Republic of Serbia,” she claimed at the time.
In January, Prime Minister Ana Brnabić said Rio Tinto didn’t provide enough information on its lithium project, declaring all the permits void
The move was made just ahead of the start of the election campaign. President Aleksandar Vučić then won a second term in office, his Serbian Progressive Party kept the front seat in the governing coalition and Ana Brnabić remained prime minister. Regardless of the formal cancellation, Rio Tinto continued with its activities.
The mining company signed a memorandum of understanding last year with InoBat on the establishment of an electric vehicle battery value chain in Serbia. It also expressed support for the construction of a battery gigafactory in Serbia.
WHAT THE F-CK!? The government in talks for a battery factory in which Rio Tinto is investing… This is a corporate takeover of Serbia and we will not stand by and let it happen! @mars_sa_drine @znamodanedamo @KPromeni #MarsSaDrine https://t.co/mEVGHRVC2y
— Bojana Novakovic (@bojnovak) November 15, 2022
Protest campaign to be restarted
Reacting to InoBat’s announcement, activists from the Association of Environmental Organizations of Serbia (SEOS) said they would resist the new project with protest rallies and pointed to environmental risk from battery recycling.
The Slovakian firm said the International Finance Corporation (IFC) supports the initiative for a gigafactory project in Central and Eastern Europe. InoBat has earlier received grants from the European Union through the European Battery Innovation project.
ElevenEs is also planning to build a battery plant in Serbia. The domestic firm has revealed it would import the required lithium materials.