Valuable critical materials for food and innovation

9 December 2019

A profitable business is a matter of resource management and efficiency. Via ReeMAP LKAB will recycle part of the mine waste that has thus far been sent to the tailings ponds – our waste storage.

“Our ambition is to be a sustainable minerals company that contributes to reach global environmental targets. To live up to that, among others things, we have to develop flows for secondary material; that is to say, we have to make use of everything we dig out of the ground,” says Ulrika Håkansson, Technical Business Developer at the Special Products Division.

Critical raw materials

The project has great potential. It is estimated that LKAB can meet up to two per cent of world production of rare earth metals. Additionally, we believe we could meet Sweden’s annual demand for monoammonium phosphate (MAP), a phosphorus-based mineral fertilizer, five times over. The EU defines both products as critical raw materials, taking into account economic significance and supply.

“Here, we should consider two aspects. First and foremost, resource efficiency; that we utilize what we remove from the Earth’s crust. Secondly, we see great value in these products, both the rare earth metals and the phosphorus we extract from the apatite,” explains Ulrika Håkansson. Above all, phosphorus is vital for agriculture. There is currently only one supplier of phosphorus within the EU. Imports from Morocco and Kazakhstan cover the remaining European demand.

Product benefits from the LKAB waste source

“We produce a high-grade phosphorus product that is free of impurities. That we produce a product of such high quality is, of course, very good in terms of both sustainability and marketing,” adds Ulrika Håkansson.

Another advantage for LKAB with this project is that there is no need to start a new mine from the ground up. The material has already been extracted concurrently with iron ore production. Therefore, no further investment in mining it, specifically, is necessary.

Minerals demanded by modern society

Every day we use many electronic devices that have components that contain rare earth metals or rare-earth elements. These minerals are important for modern society but are not currently produced in Europe.

China produces 95% of these elements, which makes us almost wholly dependent on imports. We can realize great advantages from our own, Swedish, production, not least with respect to environment and energy.

Important development projects

However, this will demand innovative new technology and collaboration. “Something that characterizes all of our major development projects, ReeMAP, HYBRIT and SUM, is that they are based on partnerships that allow us, together, to learn from each other.

For ReeMAP in particular, this is a matter of completely new technology for large-scale industrial applications,” explains Ulrika Håkansson. “It is important to remember that this entails risks. We don’t know if we are going to reach our objective, but we are willing to dare to take the necessary steps and try. We are doing this because we want to broaden and strengthen LKAB while at the same time contributing to sustainable development.”