In the north of Sweden, the Swedish mining corporation LKAB claims to have discovered the continent’s largest deposit of rare earth elements, decreasing the continent’s reliance on China as a supplier of this vital resource.
The production of consumer gadgets, electric vehicles, and clean energy all depend on rare earth minerals. According to the US Geological Service, China, which produces 60% of the world’s output, dominates the market.
Europe currently doesn’t produce any deposit of rare earth elements
In the Kiruna region, which is in the country’s far north, LKAB has discovered more than a million tonnes of rare earth oxides, the firm stated in a statement on Thursday.
Jan Moström, president and group CEO of LKAB, said: “This is good news, not only for LKAB, the region and the Swedish people but also for Europe and the climate.”
Since no rare earth minerals are currently produced in Europe, imports are the only supply source. According to the European Commission, China supplies 98% of the minerals to the European Union. But due to electrification, demand is anticipated to soar, resulting in a global “undersupply” at a time of rising geopolitical tensions, according to LKAB.
The 15 lanthanides, together with scandium and yttrium, which frequently occur in the same ore deposits as the lanthanides and have related chemical characteristics, make up the group of 17 chemical elements known as rare earth elements or rare earth metals. The company further stated that the vulnerability of European industry is increased by the region’s reliance on China for rare earth minerals.
Ebba Busch, Sweden’s minister for energy, economy, and industry added in the same announcement that “Electrification, the European Union’s self-sufficiency and independence from Russia and China will begin in the mine.” To effectively electrify our societies, we must boost the industrial value chains in Europe.
The oxides have emerged as primary battlegrounds
However, LKAB added the route to extracting the reserves is a long one. Later this year, it intends to file a permit application. “If we look at how other permit processes have worked within our industry, it will be at least 10-15 years before we can begin mining and deliver raw materials to the market,” it said.
Rare earth has also emerged as one of the primary battlegrounds in the rivalry between the US and China due to their significance in the tech sector.
By strengthening its domestic supply chain, the United States, which has traditionally relied on China for minerals, hopes to become a significant player on the international stage. Along with other domestic supply chain initiatives, the Biden administration focused on rare earth in 2021 to lessen the susceptibility of these sectors to global unrest.