It is great news to see LKAB discover new rare earth deposits in Europe. With China currently dominating the supply chain for rare earth magnetic materials, Western industry – that will be increasingly reliant on these materials for the technologies of the future – is at a disadvantage.
There are already other deposits of rare earth material outside of China that are being investigated and, in some cases mined, but there is still tremendous scope for diversification of materials sourcing.
However, whilst it has been noted that LKAB plan to file an exploitation concession in 2023, even if successful, the deposit will take 10-15 years before material from it reaches the market.
A key capability that will unlock materials security is investment in the processing capacity to convert mined rare earth ores into oxides, metals alloys and magnets.
In the meantime, the University of Birmingham is developing production facilities for rare earth magnets from secondary sources, which can be made today in partnership with a company, Hypromag, which has exclusively licensed IP developed at the University.
A future strategy to secure technology critical metals for Britain will involve not only diversifying primary supply sources, but also developing a circular economy of technology metals through developing secondary sources of materials.
Mines take significant investment to develop and it will be a significant time before new facilities are producing usable material, but the recycling technologies being developed at the University of Birmingham are already on a journey operating at a commercial scale.