RARE EARTH ELEMENTS (REEs)Rare Earths Find in Sweden: A Gamechanger?

By Arthur Sullivan

Published 16 January 2023

A big find of raw materials critical for green technology has been announced in Sweden. Since Europe does not produce its own so-called ‘rare earths’ so far could this news be a gamechanger?

The Swedish state-owned mining company LKAB announced on Thursday that it had found more than a million tons of rare earth oxides in Kiruna, northern Sweden.

Rare earth elements, also known as rare earth metals or rare earth oxides, are a set of 17 heavy metals which have a wide range of commercial and industrial uses. They are of particular importance for the green transition, as they are needed for the production of wind turbines and electric vehicles.

However, the EU is heavily dependent on importing them or the compounds they are needed for.

Jan Moström, CEO of LKAB, said in a statement that the find was good news for “Europe and the climate”, adding “it could become a significant building block for producing the critical raw materials that are absolutely crucial to enable the green transition.”

Experts say the size of the find still needs to be verified but the estimate from the company of 1 million tons would make it the largest of its kind in Europe.

Is This a Big Surprise?
Not really. The deposit, dubbed Per Geijer, is located in the Swedish portion of the Arctic Circle, which has been known to be rich in rare earth minerals for several decades. LKAB already runs the largest iron ore mine in Europe and their exploration for rare earths in Kiruna has been widely publicized.

How Rare Are Rare Earths and Who Has Them All?
Despite the name, rare earths are plentiful in many parts of the world but mining and extracting them is extremely complex and costly. It can also be very damaging to the environment.

China has by far the largest amount of rare earth reserves of any country in the world, followed by Vietnam, Brazil and Russia. However, in terms of refining and processing rare earths, China is further ahead: according to data from the US Geological Survey, it accounted for more than 60% of all rare earths production as of January 2022, followed by the US (16%), Myanmar (9%) and Australia (8%).

In Europe, there are heavy regulatory barriers to the mining and production of critical raw materials and it does not currently mine raw earths. As a result, the EU is heavily dependent on China and other countries for them.