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Sweden eyes cobalt mining on home turf

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Sweden eyes cobalt mining on home turf
The LKAB iron-ore mine in Kiruna, in northern Sweden. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT file photo
10:51 CET+01:00
Sweden is "one of the most interesting areas in the world" to explore minerals like cobalt and lithium, Enterprise and Innovation Minister Mikael Damberg says.

A new report suggests that Sweden's historic mining area of Bergslagen may have great potential for extracting sought-after minerals such as cobalt and lithium and the government on Thursday gave the go-ahead to investigate the opportunities to start exploring the matter.

The demand for cobalt, lithium and Rare Earth Metals (REE) has soared in recent years due to their contribution to green innovations such as electric cars and solar and wind power stations as well as the production of mobile phone batteries. Congo is today the world's leading provider of cobalt, with 65 percent of the total production, while China mines 95 percent of the world's REEs.  

"Demand will grow explosively for a number of these minerals and metals going forward," Enterprise and Innovation Minister Mikael Damberg told The Local in an interview.

"So Europe needs to have a think about whether it's really that healthy to be that import-dependent on, for example, Congo where a lot of the exploration is done in some pretty dire conditions."

The report published by the Geological Survey of Sweden (SGU) states that "there is great potential for prospecting for many innovation critical resources in Sweden, including graphite, lithium, Rare Earth Metals (REE), volfram etc".

"Sweden is a strong mining nation but we haven't really looked for, or valued the minerals that are needed for this green switch previously," Damberg said. "I think it could mean a lot for Sweden from an economic and sustainable point of view."

Thursday's government go-ahead will allow for SGU to explore prospecting opportunities in the area of Bergslagen, near Stockholm, as well as in the northern regions of Västerbotten and Norrbotten. The government is earmarking SGU 10 million kronor ($1.26 million) for the project, of which the results will be presented in the first half of 2020.  

Damberg said Sweden could become a world challenger in exploring the sought-after minerals. "One of the most interesting areas in Sweden, and in the world, is in fact Bergslagen."

The demand for the innovation-friendly minerals shows no sign of receding. Last year, Tesla launched its first mass-market Model 3 electric car and Volvo Cars announced that all of its new cars will be electric by 2019. Swedish battery developer Northvolt will also later this year start the construction of Europe's largest lithium-ion battery factory in Skellefteå. When construction is completed in 2023, it is expected to produce around 32 GWh a year and employ some 2,000-2,500 people.

Damberg said that although Europe has a clear industrial and economic interest in mining its own minerals and metals, it also has a responsibility to ensure that it is one in a green and sustainable manner. And it is also important from a security perspective.

"Is it reasonable that we've become so dependent on such a low number of producers around the world?" Damberg said.

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