Europe’s largest known deposit of rare earth elements, essential for the manufacture of electric vehicles, has been discovered in the far north of Sweden, raising Europe’s hopes of reducing its dependence on China.

Swedish mining group LKAB said on Thursday the newly explored deposit, which sits right next to its iron ore mine, contained more than a million tonnes of rare earth oxides.

“This is the largest known deposit of rare earth elements in our part of the world, and it could become an important component in producing the critical raw materials that are absolutely crucial to enabling the ecological transition,” said LKAB chief executive, Jan Mostrom, in a statement.

“We are facing a supply problem. Without mines, there can be no electric vehicles,” Mostrom added.

While the find is believed to be the largest in Europe, it remains small on a global scale, accounting for less than one percent of the 120 million tons estimated worldwide by the US Geological Survey.

In 2021, the European Commission said that 98 percent of the rare earths used in the EU were imported from China, prompting Brussels to urge member states to develop their own extraction capacities.

LKAB’s finding came when a European Commission delegation visited Sweden, which took over the rotating EU presidency earlier this year.

“Today, the EU is too dependent on other countries for these materials,” Swedish Energy Minister Ebba Busch told a news conference, pointing specifically to Russia and China.

“This must change. We must take responsibility for the supply of raw material necessary for the (green) transition,” he added.

– Insufficient trade –

The European Union has agreed to phase out new CO2-emitting vehicles by 2035, effectively banning combustion-engine cars, meaning the need for rare earth materials will only increase.

In the short term, Busch said the EU needed to “diversify” its trade.

“But in the long run, we can’t just rely on trade deals,” he said.

Mostrom said the full scope of the deposit had not yet been established.

“We are still exploring to see how big this is,” Mostrom told AFP, adding that LKAB was also in the process of figuring out how the new deposit could be mined.

Mostrom said it was difficult to accurately gauge the impact of the discovery on reducing Europe’s dependence on Chinese imports.

But he said he was confident “it will have a big impact.”

Asked during a news conference when the deposit could be mined and raw materials delivered to the market, Mostrom said it would largely depend on how quickly permits could be obtained.

But based on experience, it would probably be “10 to 15 years,” he said.

According to LKAB, the rare earth elements found in the Per Geijer deposit occurred “in what is primarily an iron ore deposit and can therefore be produced as by-products,” creating new opportunities for “potentially competitive mining.” “.

– From magnets to lenses –

Rare-earth minerals with names like neodymium, praseodymium, and dysprosium are crucial for making magnets used in industries of the future, like wind turbines and electric cars.

They are also present in consumer goods such as smartphones, computer screens, and telescopic lenses.

Others have more traditional uses, such as cerium for polishing glass and lanthanum for automotive catalysts or optical lenses.

Sweden is one of the largest mining countries in the EU.

More than 90 percent of the EU’s iron ore production comes from the Scandinavian country, which also has the bloc’s largest lead and zinc production, the second-largest silver production and one of the largest gold and copper productions, according to the Swedish Geological Survey.