Sweden discovers largest rare earth deposit in Europe

EU is looking for other sources than China for these crucial minerals, but it will take at least a decade before Sweden’s are available to industry.

Swedish mine, LKAB.
Jan Mostrom, president and CEO of the Swedish mining company LKAB, and energy minister Ebba Busch announce on January 12, 2023, that Europe's largest deposit of rare earth minerals has been found in the Arctic region of Kiruna [Jonas Ekstromer/TT News Agency via Reuters]

Sweden’s state-owned mining company says it has identified more than 1 million tonnes of rare earth minerals in the northern area of Kiruna.

LKAB said on Thursday that the deposit, found next to its iron ore mine, was the largest of rare earth oxides in Europe.

Rare earth minerals are vital to making many high-tech goods. They are used in electric vehicles, wind turbines, portable electronics, microphones and speakers.

Jan Mostrom, LKAB’s CEO, told Al Jazeera that finding the deposit is “quite significant”.

“One thing is that we can identify quite large deposits of this material here inside the European Union, and these materials will be vital for electrification,” he said.

Swedish mine
A view of the iron mine of the state-owned Swedish mining company LKAB in Kiruna [Jonas Ekstromer/ TT News Agency via AFP]

Rare earth elements are not currently mined in Europe. Most come from China, and demand is expected to increase as industries shift towards renewable energy.

When asked if the discovery has the potential to replace China as the lead supplier of rare earth metals to Europe, Mostrom said these were “early stages”.

“Given the volumes we have today, it could bring in the significant volume of material needed in Europe – not nearly to be self-sufficient but it is an important first step,” he said.

EU strategy

Sweden is seen as a crucial part of the European Union’s strategy for self-sufficiency in critical minerals.

“Electrification, the EU’s self-sufficiency and independence from Russia and China will begin in the mine,” said Ebba Busch, Sweden’s energy, business and industry minister.

LKAB says it plans to apply for an exploitation concession this year but added that it would be at least 10 to 15 years before it could begin mining the deposit and shipping to markets.

The approval for new mines in Sweden is a lengthy process in which the risk to water resources and biodiversity is considered.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies