Europe’s largest rare earth deposit found in Sweden
Image credit: LKAB
Europe's largest deposit of rare earths - fundamental for the manufacturing of devices ranging from mobile phones to missiles - has been found in the Kiruna area of Sweden.
Swedish government-owned LKAB has found a deposit containing over a million tonnes of rare earth oxides in the Artic region of Sweden.
The deposit has been hailed as "decisive" for the green transition, given the expected rise in demand for electric vehicles and wind turbines, which depend on these materials for their manufacture.
“This is the largest known deposit of rare earth elements in our part of the world, and it could become a significant building block for producing the critical raw materials that are absolutely crucial to enable the green transition,” said LKAB chief executive Jan Mostrom.
“Without mines, there can be no electric vehicles.”
Rare earths are a group of 17 elements that are used to make a range of electronic products, from magnets, glass screens and speakers to trains, mobile phones and missile guidance systems.
At the moment, there are no rare earth materials are mined in Europe. Moreover, around 98 per cent of the rare earth materials used in the European Union are imported from China. Thus, the Swedish government has celebrated this new discovery as opening a path towards reducing the region's dependence on the Asian giant.
“The EU’s self-sufficiency and independence from Russia and China will begin in the mine," said Ebba Busch, Sweden’s minister for energy and business. "We need to strengthen industrial value chains in Europe and create real opportunities for the electrification of our societies.
The European Commission has also underscored the need for Europe to start mining these materials. In a 2020 report, it stated that access to these resources "is a strategic security question for Europe’s ambition to deliver the Green Deal".
In her 2022 State of the Union address, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said rare earth elements would “soon be more important than oil and gas.” The EU expects demand to increase fivefold by 2030.
For this reason, Moström called the discovery “good news, not only for LKAB, the region and the Swedish people but also for Europe and the climate.”
However, despite the discovery's potential to drive the development of renewable technologies, the extraction of these materials is both difficult and potentially damaging to the environment.
To avoid this, LKAB will have to request permitting processes and undertake assessments of the environmental risks, meaning that the raw materials might not reach the market until 2033 or 2038.
However, Moström called on authorities to speed up the process, "to ensure increased mining of this type of raw material in Europe".
Last year, researchers from KU Leuven University in Belgium estimated that Europe will require 35 times more lithium and seven to 26 times the amount of rare earth metals compared to its limited use today in order to meet the EU’s Green Deal goal of climate neutrality by 2050.
The study also finds that by 2050, 40 to 75 per cent of Europe’s clean energy metal needs could be met through local recycling if Europe invests heavily now and fixes bottlenecks.
In July, the UK government announced its plans to build the second-large magnet refinery outside of China, as part of a new ‘Critical Minerals Strategy’, which aims to “bolster the resilience of supply chains” and “seize on the economic opportunities of growing industries.”
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