The mining company LKAB has made major discoveries of rare earth elements in the northern Swedish city of Kiruna. The deposit has the potential to become Europe's most important mine for critical raw materials.
During a press conference in the Kiruna mine, CEO of LKAB, Jan Moström, presented the big news: The Swedish mining giant has identified Europe's largest deposit of rare earth metals in Kiruna – and LKAB wants to develop this deposit.
This is the first time LKAB reports about the mineral resources and further exploration of the so-called Per Geijer deposit, which contains resources of more than one million tonnes of rare earth metals.
“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,” says Moström, of LKAB in a press release.
The largest deposit in Europe
The rare earth elements have been found in Kiruna, Sweden's northernmost city, which is located around 20 miles from the Arctic circle in Swedish Lapland. LKAB's mining operation takes place in close proximity, in what is the world's largest underground iron ore mine.
After successful exploration, the company reported yesterday of mineral resources of rare earth metals exceeding one million tones of rare earth oxides. This is currently the largest known deposit of its kind in Europe.
The Rare Earth Oxides found in Per Geijer are used to produce Rare Earth Elements (REE). The large amounts found are sufficient to meet a large part of the EU's future demand for manufacturing the permanent magnets that are needed for electric motors in, among other things, electric vehicles and windpower turbines, the company informs.
Value chain starting in the North
During the press conference, Moström of LKAB specified that a fossil-free future requires a six times greater production of minerals in 2040 than what exists today. He also pointed out that the EU only uses 30 percent of the global metals and minerals. At the same time, only 3 percent of this is extracted in the union.
The demand for rare earth elements for electric cars and wind turbines, among others, is expected to increase more than fivefold by 2030. There is, however, no production of these in the EU, according to the company.
"This provides a potential for Europe to take the lead in the green shift," says Swedish Minister for Energy, Business and Industry, Ebba Busch, about the discovery in Kiruna.
“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 has a lot to offer. The need for minerals to carry out the transition is great, says Minister for Energy, Business and Industry, Ebba Busch.”
Connection to Norway
LKAB recently entered into a cooperation with Norwegian REEtec, where LKAB has now become the majority owner. As High North News recently reported, the companies will develop a foundation for a Nordic value chain for rare earth metals together. In LKAB's process, the earth metals are extracted as a concentrate that contains all the earth elements in a mixture. To become metals, they must first be separated. This is where REEtecs technology and planned factory on Hærøya in Norway come into the picture.
LKAB wants to establish a circular industry park in Luleå which will extract critical minerals. The planned production start is in 2027. 100 percent of the concentrate from Lulelå will go to the factory REEtec will build in Norway, according to LKAB.
“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,” says Leif Boström, Senior Vice President, Business Area Special Products, LKAB, in the press release.
LKAB has already started to prepare a drift, several kilometres long.
A long process
At the same time, the road to possible mining of the deposit is long, specifies LKAB. 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 writes that they have already started preparing a several-kilometer-long drift at a depth of approximately 700 meters in the existing Kiruna mine towards the new deposit in order to be able to investigate it at depth and in detail.
“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,” says Jan Moström.
This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by Birgitte Annie Molid Martinussen.