Swedish miner finds largest European store of rare earth metals

The LKAB facility in Kiruna, Sweden. The company said on Jan. 12 that it found Europe’s biggest known deposit of rare earth elements there.

Jonas Ekstromer | Afp | Getty Images

State-owned Swedish mining company LKAB said it has found what it believes to be Europe’s largest known deposit of rare earth elements.

Located in Kiruna, in the far north of Sweden, the company said Thursday that the store contained more than one million metric tons of rare earth oxides.

These metals are used in the manufacture of electric cars and wind turbines, as well as magnets, glass screens, speakers and various other electronics.

The discovery could pave the way for rare earth elements to start being mined in Europe, with the region currently wholly reliant on imports from a market dominated by China.

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The European Union imports 99% of its rare earth elements from the country, according to a 2020 report — and mining them closer to home has been identified as a key goal for the bloc.

In her 2022 State of the Union address, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said rare earth elements, along with lithium which is also used in batteries, would “soon be more important than oil and gas.” The EU expects demand to increase fivefold by 2030.

Jan Moström, LKAB’s chief executive, called the discovery “good news, not only for LKAB, the region and the Swedish people, but also for Europe and the climate.”

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However, the company said the road to mining would be “long,” with an exploration license still to be submitted and several more years of exploration needed to discover the full extent of the deposit.

“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,” Moström said.

Last year, Politico reported that Swedish locals living near potential sites and some campaigners were concerned about the potential impact of mining in the EU.

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