LKAB reports discovery of largest rare earth deposit in Europe
Swedish mining firm LKAB announced that the largest known deposit of rare earth minerals in Europe has been discovered in northern Sweden. The company said in a statement that the deposit contains more than 1 Mt (1.1 million st) of rare earth oxides.
“This is good news, not only for LKAB, the region and the Swedish people, but also for Europe and the climate. 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. We face a supply problem. Without mines, there can be no electric vehicles,” said Jan Moström, President and Group CEO, LKAB.
No rare earth elements are currently mined in Europe, at the same time, demand is expected to increase dramatically as a result of electrification, which will lead to a global undersupply, and this at a time of increasing geopolitical tensions. According to the European Commission’s assessment, the demand for rare earth elements for electric cars and wind turbines, among others, is expected to increase more than fivefold by 2030. Europe is also dependent on imports of these minerals, where China dominates the market, a factor which increases the vulnerability of European industry.
“Electrification, the EU’s self-sufficiency and independence from Russia and China will begin in the mine. We need to strengthen industrial value chains in Europe and create real opportunities for the electrification of our societies. Politics must give the industry the conditions to switch to green and fossil-free production. Here, the Swedish mining industry have a lot to offer. The need for minerals to carry out the transition is great,” said Minister for Energy, Business and Industry, Ebba Busch.”
While the discovery is exciting news, there are a number of steps that must be completed before mining begins. In a release, LKAB said “the first step is an application for an exploitation concession for the Per Geijer deposit in order to be able to investigate it further at depth and investigate the conditions for mining. The plan is to be able to submit an application for an exploitation concession in 2023.”
LKAB has already started to prepare a drift, several kilometres long, at a depth of approximately 700 m (2,300 ft) in the existing Kiruna Mine toward the new deposit in order to be able to investigate it at depth and in detail.
“We are already investing heavily to move forward, and we expect that it will take several years to investigate the deposit and the conditions for profitably and sustainably mining it. We are humbled by the challenges surrounding land use and impacts that exist to develop this into a mine and that will need to be analyzed to see how to avoid, minimize and compensate for it. Only then can we proceed with an environmental review application and apply for a permit,” said Jan Moström.
“If we look at how other permit processes have worked within our industry, it will be at least 10-15 years before we can actually begin mining and deliver raw materials to the market. And then we are talking about Kiruna, where LKAB has been mining ore for more than 130 years. Here, the European Commission’s focus on this issue, to secure access to critical materials, and the Critical Raw Materials Act the Commission is now working on, is decisive. We must change the permit processes to ensure increased mining of this type of raw material in Europe. Access is today a crucial risk factor for both the competitiveness of European industry and the climate transition,” said Moström.
Promising results from LKAB’s ongoing exploration in Kiruna and Gällivare were presented last spring. The deposit Per Geijer is in close proximity to existing operations in Kiruna. More extensive studies show an increase from 400 Mt (440 million st) of mineral resources with high iron content to more than 500 Mt (550 million st), and that the Per Geijer deposit contains up to seven times the grade of phosphorus as the orebodies that LKAB mines in Kiruna today. Phosphorus is one of three nutrients in mineral fertilizers necessary for food production and is on the EU’s list of critical minerals.
The rare earth elements in Per Geijer occur together with phosphorus in the mineral apatite, in what is mainly an iron ore deposit and which may therefore be produced as by-products. It also creates completely different opportunities for possible competitive mining.
“LKAB is already planning a circular industrial park in Luleå with new technology for the extraction and processing of phosphorus, rare earth elements and fluorine based on today’s existing mining production. There, instead of landfilling the material, it can be used to create new, sustainable products. A production start is planned for 2027,” said Leif Boström, Senior Vice President, Business Area Special Products, LKAB.
Photo: Kiruna Mine operations in Sweden. Credit, Shutterstock.