Swedish state-owned mining company LKAB says it has discovered more than 1 million tons of rare earth oxides in the Kiruna region in the north of the country, making this the largest deposit in Europe.
Rare earth minerals are essential for many high-tech manufacturing processes and are used in electric vehicles, wind turbines, portable electronics.
“This is good news not only for LKAB, the region and the Swedish people, but also for Europe and the climate,” said LKAB CEO Jan Moström in a statement. “This could be an essential building block for the production of critical raw materials that are absolutely essential for the green transition,” he said.
The newly discovered deposit is in close proximity to the world’s largest iron ore mine, LKAB, in Kiruna.
LKAB has already begun preparing a roadway several kilometers long at a depth of approximately 700 meters in the existing Kiruna mine to the new deposit in order to explore it in detail at depth.
LKAB is planning an eco-industrial park in Luleå in northern Sweden with new technology for the extraction and processing of phosphorus, rare earth elements and fluorine based on existing mining.
There, instead of throwing material into landfill, it can be used to create new, sustainable products. Production is scheduled to start in 2027,” says Leif Boström, Senior Vice President of Special Products at LKAB.
Rare earth elements are not currently mined in Europe, leaving the region dependent on imports from other countries. At the same time, demand is expected to grow in the coming years due to the development of the electric vehicle and renewable energy sectors.
“Electrification, self-sufficiency and EU independence from Russia and China will begin in the construction of the mine,” said the Minister of Energy, Business and Industry Ebba Bush.
Sweden holds the Presidency of the Council of the European Union and is seen as a key country in the EU's strategy for self-sufficiency in key minerals.
The European Commission considers rare earths one of the most important resources for the region. The vast majority of rare earth metals are now mined in China.
However, the path to the development of a deposit in Sweden will not be close. LKAB said it plans to apply for a mining concession in 2023, but added that it will take at least 10-15 years before it can potentially start mining and supplying the market.
The approval process for new mines is long and complex in the Scandinavian country, as it often increases the risk of impacts on water resources and biodiversity in the areas where they are located.
Furthermore, Erik Jonsson, Senior Geologist at the Department of Mineral Resources of the Geological Survey of Sweden, said that Europe still lacks full-scale processing capacity for rare earths and intermediates.
“So we also need to focus on the entire value chain of these metals, on products such as high-performance magnets that we want to use for wind turbines or motors in electric vehicles,” Jonsson said.