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Sweden discovers rare earth elements – and that could redefine Europe’s relationship with China

Swedish company LKAB has discovered what is believed to be Europe’s largest rare earth deposit, promising a crucial boost to the continent’s trade security and green transition.

“Rare earth metals” are a group of 17 chemical elements composed of scandium, yttrium and lanthanides. Contrary to their name, rare earth metals are abundant; their rarity stems from the complexity of their extraction, separation and refining, which can generate toxic and radioactive waste, have a negative impact on the environment.

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

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In particular, they are also essential for the clean energy transition, as they are part of the magnets used in electric cars and wind turbines.

Without its own mining, the EU input 98% of its supply of rare earth metals from China, which houses the largest part of the world reserve and is the largest global supplier.

However, the discovery of LKAB could be a game changer. The state company said that it has found a deposit – called Per Geijer – of more than a million tons in the Kiruna area, located in Lapland within the Arctic Circle.

The Swedish LKAB finds the largest deposit of rare earth metals in Europe