Rare earth elements in mining waste a solution for electric power of the future

January 4, 2023

The green transition and huge industrial investments in the north place great demands on increased renewable electricity supply. Wind power is a solution, but rare earth elements are needed to build wind turbines. Norrbotten has good conditions for success through LKAB's project ReeMAP.

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Wind power could be the solution for more electricity in the future. Photo: Fredric Alm

One of LKAB’s most important focus areas right now concerns new technology and circular methods for extracting critical minerals and raw materials from mining waste. From today’s mining waste, the goal is to extract rare earth elements and phosphorus as valuable by-products from the iron ore mining. In Luleå, LKAB is planning investments of around SEK 10 billion in the coming years to develop the new circular industrial park.

”What is happening in Norrbotten, with the incredibly important industrial investments that are underway, is based on electrification and hydrogen. This means that the demand for more electricity will increase dramatically. Wind power is the type of power that on a large scale can be in place quickest and at the most competitive cost. Wind power expansion is simply crucial for Norrbotten’s competitiveness”, says Daniel Badman, CEO of Svensk Vindenergi.

Europe has no mining of rare earth elements of its own today. China dominates both mining and refining, while we in Europe have a heavy dependence on REE’s to produce electric cars and wind turbines needed for our green transition. Rare earth elements are therefore found on the EU’s list of 30 critical raw materials. What these raw materials have in common is that they are important to our industry and economy, that we are dependent on imports and that there is a high risk of supply interruptions, for example related to geopolitical risks.

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Daniel Badman. Photo: Svensk Vindenergi

A wind turbine mainly consists of steel and iron. But rare earth elements are also needed. LKAB’s ore contain REE’s that increase in relation to the amount of phosphorus.

”Of course, the fact that we have access to rare earth elements means that the extraction and the process can be done based on our modern environmental legislation and modern working environment conditions, which is a challenge globally. Norrbotten has particularly good conditions for success thanks to the ReeMAP project, which should be able to supply as much as 30 percent of today’s import needs for rare earth elements in the EU – just by recycling and refining mine waste”, says Daniel Badman.

Rare earth elements have the same importance for climate change all over the world.
”If we look at the whole of Sweden, electricity production will need to be expanded by 10 terawatt hours per year until the year 2045. That is more than all of Norrbotten’s electricity use today. No single type of power will be able to expand enough to cope with the increasing electricity use alone, but at the moment wind power is the type of power that can be in place the quickest and Sweden has unique conditions for wind power”, says Daniel Badman.