Sweden discovers rare earth metals — and that could redefine Europe’s relationship with China

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Swedish company LKAB has discovered what’s claimed to be Europe’s biggest deposit of rare earth metals, promising a critical boost in the continent’s trade security and green transition.

“Rare earths” are a group of 17 chemical elements composed of scandium, yttrium, and lanthanides. Contrary to their name, rare earths are actually abundant; their rarity stems from the complexity of their extraction, separation, and refining, which can generate toxic and radioactive waste, negatively impacting the environment.

But despite their environmental hazards, they are crucial for the manufacture of numerous high-tech products. This ranges from household goods (TVs, computers, and smartphones) to medical equipment (X-Ray and MRI scanning) and defense systems (jets and night vision tech, among others).

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Most notably, they’re also key for the clean energy transition, as they are components of the magnets used in EVs and wind turbines.

With no mining of its own, the EU imports 98% of its rare earth metals supply from China, which houses the majority of the world’s reserve and is the biggest global supplier.

LKAB’s discovery, however, could be a game changer. The state-owned company said that it has found a deposit — named Per Geijer — of over one million tons in the Kiruna area, located in Lapland within the Arctic Circle.

Sweden's LKAB finds the biggest rare earth metals deposit in Europe