Swedish mining firm LKAB finds Europe’s largest rare earth deposit

 

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“It will be at least 10 to 15 years before we can actually begin mining and deliver raw to the materials market,” Chief Executive Officer Jan Mostrom said, citing a time line derived from other permitting processes in the industry. LKAB plans an application for an exploration concession this year, before seeking permits.

The relative scarcity of rare earth minerals has been identified as a major hurdle in the world’s transition away from fossil fuels. China and parts of Southeast Asia dominate both the mining and processing of rare earths. A 2022 US Geological Survey report said China has around 44 million tons of rare-earth oxides and in 2021, the country produced 168000 tons, up from 140000 tons the year before.

That’s been particularly painful in Europe, where the European Union is trying to assert itself as a major player in renewable energy (RE). Sweden already plays a key role in the bloc’s RE ambitions. It supplies roughly 90 % of the continent’s iron ore, most sourced in LKAB’s mines in the north.

Erik Jonsson, senior geologist at the Geological Survey of Sweden, said the LKAB finding could prove to be a “very good addition” to fill the acute need for European rare earth elements.

He called it a “significant” addition to the Nordics’ known resources of the rare metals, which he and some colleagues have previously assessed to lie at around 36 million tons of metal content, most of it locked into deposits in southern Greenland.

LKAB benefits from its previous experience in extracting some rare metals from old mining waste, given that the levels in the deposit announced today would be far too low to be profitable as a pure rare-earth mine, he said.

The Nordic nation, which has just taken over the rotating six-month presidency of the EU, has invited the European Commission for a two-day summit in Kiruna. The town has won fame for being moved in its entirety to accommodate the growth of LKAB’s mine. Bloomberg News

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