A Swedish mining company announced this week it discovered more than a million tons of rare earth minerals near a mining pit in the country’s far north, providing the state-owned company an unexpected potential windfall, and offering hope to various countries (including the United States) eager to use the metals for wind turbine and electric vehicle production—but heavily reliant on China for them.
In a statement on Thursday, LKAB, a state-owned mining company, said it found “significant deposits” near a mine it operates near the city of Kiruna—the largest deposit of its kind in Europe.
The metals, which are not mined in Europe, according to the company, are essential in the production of common household electronics like televisions, computers and smartphones, as well as electric vehicles and wind turbines, as well as defense systems, like night-vision technology and military jets.
The majority of the world’s supply of the metals is mined in China, which controls roughly 60% of the world’s mining production and 85% of the processing of the metals.
The discovery comes amid an escalating trade war between the U.S. and other western nations with China—China threatened to cut off its rare metal exports to the U.S. in 2019—but nearly four-fifths of rare metals imported to the U.S. between 2017 and 2020 came from China, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Former President Trump issued an executive order in 2020 to boost domestic rare earth metal production, and last year President Biden invoked the Defense Production Act to try and spur discovery and mining of the minerals.
LKAB President Jan Mostrom called the discovery a “significant building block” for mining the raw metals that are “absolutely crucial to enable the green transition.”
The discovery could also provide a significant boost in the production of electric vehicles and other green energy technology, which is largely reliant on Chinese production of rare earth oxides. Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act that passed last year earmarked $370 billion for solar, wind and electric-vehicle subsidies, relying heavily that the accessibility of these metals will continue. In October, the EU announced it had reached an agreement with the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament to ban traditional nonelectric vehicles by 2035. Regulators in California, meanwhile, approved a ban on the sale of new gas-powered vehicles in the state by 2035.
LKAB officials said they don’t know the full extent of the deposit, and that it could take years to finish an investigation into its size as well as how best to mine it. The mining company, which operates a pit nearby, has started to work on a passageway, called a “drift,” that would stretch for “several kilometers” from its existing mine to the deposit, at a depth of nearly a half a mile below the surface.
What To Watch For
When mining can actually begin. The company said it could be 10 to 15 years, according to the New York Times, before the metals could ever make their way to market.
Europe’s “self-sufficiency and independence from Russia and China will begin in the mine,” Sweden’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Energy, Business and Industry Ebba Busch said in a statement on Thursday.
Sweden Says It Has Uncovered a Rare Earth Bonanza (New York Times)
Sweden finds rare earth deposits that could benefit Western consumers (The Washington Post)
Sweden’s LKAB finds Europe’s biggest deposit of rare earth metals (Reuters)