Swedish state-owned mining company LKAB said it had found Europe’s largest known deposit of rare earths close to Kiruna, the country’s northernmost town.
The discovery could help the continent break away from China’s dominance in the sector. The nation produces about 98% of the group of 17 minerals used in electric vehicles (EVs), portable electronics, wind turbines and military equipment.
The Per Geijer deposit, just north of the company’s largest iron ore mine in the Swedish Arctic, is estimated to contain more than 1 million tonnes of rare earths, LKAB said.
Work is still in an exploratory phase, the miner noted, and the full extent of the deposit is not known.
“It will be at least 10 to 15 years before we can actually begin mining and deliver raw materials to the market,” chief executive officer Jan Mostrom said in the statement, citing a timeline derived from other permitting processes in the industry.
LKAB plans an application for an exploration concession this year, before seeking permits.
Mostrom called on the European Commission to speed up and streamline those processes as part of its Critical Raw Materials Act, which is expected to be announced in March this year.
Sweden plays a key role in the European Union’s renewable energy ambitions, already supplying about 90% of the continent’s iron ore. Most of the steelmaking commodity is mined at LKAB’s operations.
The EU considers rare earths to be among the most critical resources for the region.
“Electrification, the EU’s self-sufficiency and independence from Russia and China will begin in the mine,” Sweden’s minister in charge of energy and business said in the statement.
Sweden, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU, has invited bloc’s representatives for a two-day summit in Kiruna. The town grabbed headlines in the late 2010’s as it was moved in its entirety to accommodate the growth of the namesake operation, which is the largest underground iron ore mine.