Sweden says vast rare earth find will boost Europe's green goals

Europe's first known deposit of critical minerals discovered in the Arctic Circle

Mining company LKAB announced the discovery near the town of Kiruna, in the Arctic Circle. EPA
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Sweden savoured a political and economic win on Friday after a vast deposit of valuable rare earth minerals was discovered in its Arctic north.

The find under the snow of Kiruna was immediately lauded as a breakthrough in Europe’s green ambitions and its quest to avoid reliance on China or Russia.

China dominates the market in rare earth elements that are used to make electric cars, rechargeable batteries, wind turbines, phone touchscreens and other green and high-end technology.

But Sweden has now discovered more than a million tonnes of rare earth minerals, the largest known deposit in Europe, according to mining company LKAB.

Although it could be at least a decade before they are mined, Sweden is already envisaging a key role in Europe’s 21st-century economy.

The announcement came as members of the European Commission visited Kiruna’s landmark Ice Hotel to kick off Sweden’s six-month EU presidency.

“Electrification, the EU’s self-sufficiency and independence from Russia and China will begin in the mine,” said Sweden’s Energy Minister Ebba Busch.

“We need to strengthen industrial value chains in Europe and create real opportunities for the electrification of our societies.”

Jan Mostrom, the president of the mining company, said the mine could solve a key supply challenge facing the green transition.

“This is good news, not only for LKAB, the region and the Swedish people, but also for Europe and the climate,” he said.

“Without mines, there can be no electric vehicles.”

China has about a third of known rare earth deposits and accounts for most global production, while the US, Australia, Russia and Myanmar are among others with significant resources.

While Europe currently imports many rare earth goods from China, it is eager to avoid falling into the same trap that left it reliant on Russian oil and gas exports before the war in Ukraine.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said that the EU’s demand for rare earths is likely to increase fivefold by 2030 as electrification speeds ahead.

The new deposit, known as Per Geijer, is near an existing iron ore mine in Kiruna, which is Sweden’s northernmost town and lies 200km north of the Arctic Circle.

The mining company could apply for an initial permit this year, but said it would then take several years to investigate the deposit and how it can be extracted.

It said it would lobby the visiting EU commissioners to speed up the approval process for mining of critical materials.

“Access is today a crucial risk factor for both the competitiveness of European industry and the climate transition,” Mr Mostrom said.

Updated: January 13, 2023, 9:47 AM