Exploration confirms potential for producing mineral fertiliser and rare earth elements

News March 31, 2021

A circular business model and value-added processing

LKAB plans to extract apatite concentrate from the residual products of iron ore mining and to further process that to phosphorus mineral fertiliser, and in the process also extract REE’s, fluorine and gypsum.

The phosphorus (P) content in LKAB’s ores is relatively low, up to 0.6 %. However, the total volume is significant and can increase Europe’s self-sufficiency with 50 %. Additionally, LKAB can become Europe’s first Rare Earth Elements (REE’s) producer and supply up to 30 % of the need.

“We don’t have to operate a dedicated mine; that is the strength of the circular business model where we get the phosphorus and rare earth elements as a bonus from the iron ore mining. But it requires innovative processing and value-added beneficiation to take steps forward in the value chain” Leif Boström explains.

2,319 million tonnes of mineral resources

In the classification of a mining company’s deposits, mineral resources are assigned an initial value with a lower level of confidence. Through further drilling, technical, and financial studies, the mineral resources can then be upgraded to mineral reserves, i.e., when we know that the mineralisation is possible to mine, or as in this case, to be beneficiated, with profit. LKAB’s total mineral resources amount to 2,319 million tonnes (Mt) (1,407 Mt in Kiruna at 0.75 % P and 912 Mt in Malmberget at 0.6 % P).

The exploration results confirm that while LKAB mines iron ore, there is a potential to produce phosphorus from the ongoing production.

Rare Earth Elements for electric vehicles and wind turbines

Rare Earth Elements (REE’s) will be included in the exploration results from next year. In LKAB’s ores the REE’s are bound to the apatite, alike the phosphorous. REE’s always occur together and are all found in LKAB’s ores. REE demand is foremost driven by the demand of powerful permanent magnets used in electric vehicles and wind turbines, where as an example Praseodymium and Neodymium is used. These, and Dysprosium, are expected to be the most valuable rare earth elements in LKAB’s ores.

Facts about LKAB’s planned extraction of critical minerals

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