Swedish mining company LKAB has discovered what it believes to be the largest deposit of rare earth minerals in Europe. The discovery could prove a significant boost to the European Union's goal of decreasing its dependence on China for crucial mineral resources, CNN reports.
LKAB identified over one million tonnes of rare earth oxides in the Kiruna area in northern Sweden, per a statement released by the company. Rare earth minerals are critical to producing electronics and clean energy technologies. Jan Moström, president and group CEO of LKAB, called the discovery "good news, not only for LKAB, the region, and the Swedish people but also for Europe and the climate."
Currently, Europe is entirely dependent on mineral resource imports, as no rare earth elements are mined locally, per CNN. The market is primarily dominated by China, which is responsible for 60 percent of global production, per the U.S. Geological Service. Ninety-eight percent of the minerals imported into the European Union come from China, according to the European Commission.
In her 2022 State of the Union address, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said rare earth elements and lithium would "soon be more important than oil and gas." The European Union hopes to become climate neutral by 2050, per The Washington Post.
The discovery could pave the way for Europe to start mining rare earth elements closer to home, welcome news amid energy challenges tied to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. "Electrification, the European Union's self-sufficiency, and independence from Russia and China will begin in the mine," said Swedish Deputy Prime Minister Ebba Busch, per CNN.
LKAB plans to apply for a mining permit later this year, though "it will be at least 10-15 years before we can actually begin mining and deliver raw materials to the market," the company said.