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The Swedish government has announced the discovery of the largest deposit of rare earths in Europe. These mineral elements are a key component of high-tech products, particularly batteries. Until now, Europe has been dramatically dependent on third countries, such as China. The company that exploits the country’s mineral resources urged Stockholm and Brussels to speed up the permitting process.
“The news is important for Sweden and for Europe,” said Jon Moström, CEO of the state-owned company LKAB. “Our discovery could prove to be an important building block for the production of rare earths, which are essential for the green transition.” The deposit is located 150 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle, in a traditionally mining region. According to exploration conducted so far, the new reserves would be “huge.”
Potentially available rare earths include lithium, scandium and lanthanum. News of the discovery of the Per Geijer deposit came on the eve of the opening of Sweden’s six-month presidency of the European Union. As mentioned, rare earths are a crucial element in high-tech production, which is becoming increasingly important at the industrial level. In presenting the discovery, the LKAB company emphasized the timing of the licensing processes with a view to exploiting the reserves: an average of 10 to 15 years.
Today there is an urgency to exploit the deposit and we need to make sure that the permitting time is reduced, hopefully by 50-60%. This will have to be negotiated with Swedish and European authorities.
LKAB executives could not provide details on either the cost of exploitation or the actual size of the reserves. “We will only be able to have precise estimates in a year or two,” the CEO added. The company is already building an underground tunnel to connect the new reserves with the Kiruna iron ore deposit, which Swedish authorities have been exploiting since the early 1900s and which led to the birth of the town, now inhabited by about 20,000 people.
Again according to Swedish authorities, the new discovery could be enough to meet European demand for permanent magnets used in the production of electric motors. Electric cars are expected to account for 50 percent of automobile demand in 2050.
Welcoming the news, Single Market Commissioner Thierry Breton recalled that currently 91 percent of the rare earths used in Europe come from China. As mentioned, the Swedish public company LKAB has been successfully exploiting the Kiruna iron ore deposit for more than a century, producing 80 percent of the iron ore used in Europe. The mine has more than 500 kilometers of roads built up to a depth of 1,300 meters. In addition to recovering iron ore-90,000 tons a day-LKAB is also active in recovering apatite, which is then processed to produce phosphorus ultimately used in fertilizers, now in short supply due to the Russian war in Ukraine.