Europe’s largest deposit of rare earth elements now 25 percent larger
Europe´s largest deposit of rare earth elements now 25 % larger (credits: LKAB)
LKAB is today submitting an application for a processing concession for the Per Geijer deposit in Kiruna. Since the discovery was reported as Europe's largest known rare earth oxide deposit earlier this year, further investigations have been carried out. "This means, among other things, that we can now write up the mineral resources for rare earth oxides by 25% to over 1.3 million tonnes in situ," says Jan Moström, President and CEO of LKAB.
Per Geijer is basically an iron ore deposit with high levels of both phosphorus and rare earth oxides. The grade of rare earth elements is ten times higher than in the Kiruna ore where we mine today.
"Since the turn of the year alone, we have succeeded in significantly increasing mineral resources for iron, phosphorus and rare earth elements. And we haven't seen the end of the discovery," says Jan Moström.
If the processing concession is approved, we will continue to develop the deposit and prepare an environmental permit application.
"However, this does not mean that we get permission to start a mine. The processing concession is also only one part of the complex Swedish review system. The permit process is beginning and having worked in the area for more than 130 years we are now seeking the first permit for Per Geijer, to give LKAB the exclusive right to continue investigating this fantastic mineralisation," says Jan Moström.
"Without mines, there will be no electric cars, and also a growing and more risky dependence on large commodity countries such as China and Russia. In the coming decades, the need for a number of minerals such as those containing rare earth elements will increase many times over as a result of electrification. We see that we want to and that we can be part of the solution, to enable the climate transition, and also for Europe's security and competitiveness,” says Jan Moström.
Can potentially extend the operation of the Kiruna mine for at least 20 to 30 years.
LKAB today reports that the discovery contains Mineral Resources of 734 million tonnes of iron ore, with high iron content and more than 1.3 million tonnes of in situ rare earth oxides.
The discovery was already the largest reported rare earth deposit of its kind in Europe when it was announced in January 2023. Today, Europe is heavily dependent on imports of rare earth elements, mainly from China.
"The fact that it is a complex deposit, with iron ore as the base, makes it extra interesting. Without the iron ore, it would not be viable to mine phosphorus and rare earth elements here. With what we see today, a future mining operation could provide an increase in service life of at least 20 to 30 years, it will be crucial to be able to continue operating in Kiruna,” says Jan Moström.
"This shows the fantastic opportunities we have in Kiruna and gives us the conditions to create faith in the future and continue to develop the municipality and attract more residents. Kiruna is already important for Sweden and for Europe, and that position is now being strengthened. We look forward to the process where LKAB creates a sustainable and efficient mining of the deposit," says Mats Taaveniku, municipal commissioner in Kiruna.
The deposit also contains high levels of phosphorus, a necessary nutrient in mineral fertilizers that as an element enables half of global food production. Even for the critical raw material phosphorus, Europe is currently dependent on imports to about 80 percent.
"If we can break this, we could significantly strengthen Europe's self-sufficiency in phosphorus. It is not only an economic issue for us, but ultimately also a preparedness issue," says Jan Moström.
The EU expects permit processes to take a maximum of two years
At the same time, LKAB is early in the process. If the processing concession is approved, it will give LKAB the conditions to invest in the extensive studies required as a basis for decisions on possible future mining. In order to open a mine, a permit is also required in accordance with the Environmental Code from the Land and Environment Court.
"We are experiencing an increased awareness of the need for metals and minerals for electrification and the green transition. At the same time, Europe's high dependence on imports is a cause for concern both in industry and politics. In Europe, there is now talk of two years for permits for strategically important minerals such as those for the rare earth metals, but our experience is that it can take between 10 and 15 years to get through the complex Swedish trial system. The processing concession is only one part of this. So this will be an important test if the permit system manages to meet the expectations of the outside world," says Jan Moström.
The issue of lengthy and unpredictable permit examinations has been widely debated in recent years, and current and previous governments have promised reforms so that a critical climate transition does not fall on bureaucratic formal requirements without significance for the environment.
"We have a positive attitude towards strict environmental requirements and will take great responsibility for the impact that our operations cause. For example, there is concern about how reindeer husbandry will be affected by a new mine in the area, and we understand that. In addition, popular outdoor recreation areas are affected. We are still early in the process and there is a long way to go. We are responsive and have the ambition to solve the issues along the way. But we also need commitment from stakeholders and authorities in the process to move forward in a fast, efficient and legally secure way," says Jan Moström.
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