Discovery May Ease Reliance on China for Rare Earth Materials

It will be a while before mining can begin in northern Sweden
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 12, 2023 5:40 PM CST
Updated Jan 12, 2023 8:00 PM CST
Discovery May Ease Reliance on China for Rare Earth Materials
Sweden's Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, left and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speak as they arrive for a dinner at the Ice Hotel in Jukkasjarvi, Sweden, on Thursday.   (Jonas Ekstromer/TT News Agency via AP)

The beginning of the end of Europe's dependency on China for precious rare earth materials may lie buried deep under the rugged reaches of northern Sweden, well above the Arctic Circle. Sweden's iron-ore miner LKAB said Thursday it has identified "significant deposits" in Lapland of rare earth elements that are essential for the manufacture of smartphones, electric vehicles, and wind turbines. The government-owned company that mines iron ore at Kiruna, almost nearly 600 miles north of Stockholm, said there are more than 1 million tons of rare earth oxides. According to LKAB, it's the largest known deposit of its kind in Europe. But the company warned that it could take at least a decade before mining starts, the AP reports.

Swedish Industry Minister Ebba Busch called Sweden "a gold mine" following the discovery. Her announcement came as the European Union's executive, the European Commission, puts the finishing touches to a proposal for its Critical Raw Materials Act that should help developing reliable and solid supply chains. Rare earths now reach into the lives of almost everyone on the planet, turning up nearly everywhere, including hard drives, elevators, and trains. They are especially vital to the fast-growing field of green energy, feeding wind turbines and electric car engines. But the EU is lagging well behind competitors on the market, getting around 98% of its rare earth minerals from China, with none of them mined in Europe. According to the European Commission, demand will increase fivefold by 2030 because of the digital and green transition of the bloc's economy.

Internal market commissioner Thierry Breton has warned that the EU's ambition to become the first climate neutral continent is at risk without secure and sustainable access to raw materials. "Our twin green and digital transition will live or die through the functioning of our supply chains," he said. The EU is eager to learn from the past and reduce one-sided dependencies like the one it developed on Russia for oil and gas. "This must change," said Busch, as European commissioners traveled to Kiruna to mark the start of Sweden's six-month rotating EU presidency. "In the short run, we need to diversify our trade, but in the long run we can't rely on trade agreements only. Electrification, the EU's self-sufficiency and independence from Russia and China will begin in the mine."

(More rare earth minerals stories.)

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