LKAB said it has identified significant deposits of rare earth elements (REEs) in the Kiruna area. The Swedish mining company reported REE mineral resources exceeding 1 million metric tons in the form of rare earth oxides, which would be the largest known deposit of its kind in Europe.

“This is good news, not only for LKAB, the region, and the Swedish people but also for Europe and the climate,” said Jan Moström, president and CEO of LKAB. “It could become a significant building block for producing the critical raw materials that are crucial to enable the green transition. We face a supply problem. Without mines, there can be no electric vehicles.”

REEs are used to make high-performance magnets, which are used for traction motors for battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) and the generators in wind turbines. The demand for REEs for BEVs and wind turbines, among others, is expected to increase more than fivefold by 2030. Today, Europe and the rest of the world are entirely dependent on imports of these metals, which are refined in China (85%) and Estonia (15%).

The EU’s self-sufficiency begins with mining, explained Sweden’s Minister for Energy, Business and Industry, Ebba Busch. “We need to strengthen industrial value chains in Europe and create real opportunities for the electrification of our societies,” Busch said. “Politicians must give the industry the conditions to switch to green and fossil-free production and the Swedish mining industry has a lot to offer.”

The permitting process takes time, too much time. The first step for LKAB is an application for an exploitation concession for the Per Geijer deposit to be able to investigate it further at depth and investigate the conditions for mining. The plan is to apply for an exploitation concession in 2023.

LKAB has already started to prepare a drift, several kilometers long, at a depth of approximately 700 meters in the existing Kiruna mine towards the new deposit to investigate it at depth and in detail.

“We are already investing heavily to move forward, and we expect that it will take several years to investigate the deposit and the conditions to profitably and sustainably mine it,” Moström said. “We are humbled by the challenges surrounding land use and impacts that exist to develop this into a mine and that will need to be analyzed to see how to avoid, minimize and compensate for it. Only then can we proceed with an environmental review application and apply for a permit.”

Typically, the permitting process in this region takes 10 to 15 years before raw materials can be mined and delivered to the market. The permitting process will need to be streamlined dramatically to meet the demands of the self-imposed U.N. 2030 deadlines.

Promising results from LKAB’s ongoing exploration in Kiruna and Gällivare were first presented last spring. The REEs in Per Geijer occur together with phosphorus in the mineral apatite, in what is mainly an iron ore deposit.

LKAB is already planning a circular industrial park in Luleå with new technology for the extraction and processing of phosphorus, REEs and fluorine. Instead of landfilling the material, it could be used to create new, sustainable products. A production start is planned for 2027.