Apatite production in Malmfälten

The first step in the conversion of mine waste into critical raw materials is to produce an apatite concentrate.

Apatite production schema
Apatite production schema

We plan the process in such a way that we recover the tailings sand from the iron ore processing plants before deposition in the tailings ponds. For this reason, we must place the apatite plants directly adjacent to LKAB’s existing production facilities in Malmfälten.

Apatite production process

Erik Niva, Senior Research Engineer, explains, “We upgrade the material in several stages to produce an apatite concentrate. Flotation is the central process whereby we add a coagulation reagent that attracts to the surface of the apatite granules, to which it adheres. First, the reagent causes the apatite granules to stick to the air bubbles that we introduce into the flotation cell. Next, the apatite is then carried by the air bubbles to the surface, forming a foam which finally is extracted and dried.

Pilot plant already in operation

A full-scale plant for apatite production would be similar in size to the existing iron ore processing plants.

As part of the ReeMAP project, LKAB is already producing a small volume of apatite concentrate in a pilot plant. Watch the video below for more background information:

ReeMAP Apatite Pilot Plant video interview

Environmental permitting may cause delays

The apatite plants are planned to be built on LKAB’s existing industrial sites, where the mine waste will be recovered. This is an important initial step for realising the entire project and contributing to greater environmental benefit.

LKAB is now involved in an environmental permitting process. This process includes new comprehensive permits for the operations in Kiruna and Malmberget. We estimate this process may take more than five years. Changes in LKAB’s operations, such as the addition of an apatite plant, could impact the entire permitting process. It is, therefore, possibly necessary to revise the process in whole or in part. Unfortunately, this could place ongoing iron ore production at risk.

Therefore, the environmental permitting process for the apatite plants in Malmfälten may delay the timeline for the ReeMAP project. You can find more information about Milestones and Challenges on this website.