Rare earths are important components of renewable energy infrastructure and electric vehicles
Sweden's state owned company LKAB said it has discovered a huge deposit of rare earth oxides in the north of the country, inside the Arctic Circle.
Rare earth elements including Scandium, Neodymium and Lanthanum are important in the manufacture of batteries and electronics, and for renewable energy generation, including in the manufacture of magnets used in wind turbines.
Compound containing rare earth elements are not actually rare, but concentrated, high-quality deposits of the minerals are. Currently, 90% of the world's rare earth minerals are mined in China, with much of the rest coming from Russia. In the light of the present geopolitical situation, this concentration of resources is seen as a significant potential blocker to the expansion of renewable energy and electrification of transport in the rest of the world.
No large scale extraction currently takes place in Europe.
The EU predicts a five-fold increase in demand for rare earths to support electric vehicles and the planned increase in renewable power by 2030.
The newly discovered deposit is at Per Geijer, alongside the vast LKAB iron ore mine in Kiruna, northern Sweden.
"The rare earth elements in Per Geijer occur together with phosphorus in the mineral apatite, in what is mainly an iron ore deposit and which may therefore be produced as by-products. It also creates completely different opportunities for possible competitive mining," LKAB says on its website.
The company is expanding outwards from its existing mine to discover more about the potential of the apatite deposit, which is 700 m underground, for both iron and rare earths.
"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 group CEO of LKAB.
"This is the largest known deposit of rare earth elements in our part of the world, and it could become a significant building block for producing the critical raw materials that are absolutely crucial to enable the green transition. We face a supply problem. Without mines, there can be no electric vehicles."
However, the company says it will take several years before any extraction at scale can begin. It is pushing for a relaxation of Europe's strict permit processes.
The extraction of rare earths can be extremely harmful to the local environment, although the fact the deposits are close to a very large existing iron ore mine, that they exist within a by-product of iron ore processing, and the potential for de-risking the ramping up of green energy in the continent could be mitigating factors.