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Source: The post is based on the article “Europe’s largest known deposit of rare earth elements found in Sweden: Could the discovery change geopolitics?” published in Indian Express on 18th January 2023.
What is the News?
Swedish state-owned mining company, LKAB has announced that it has discovered more than one million tonnes of rare earth oxides in the northern area of the country. This is the largest known deposit in Europe.
What are rare earth metals?
What are rare earth metals used for?
These elements are important in technologies of consumer electronics, computers and networks, communications, clean energy, advanced transportation, healthcare, environmental mitigation, and national defense among others.
For instance, 1) Scandium is used in televisions and fluorescent lamps, 2) yttrium is used in drugs to treat rheumatoid arthritis and cancer and 3) Cerium, the most abundant rare earth element, is essential to NASA’s Space Shuttle Programme.
Why has demand for rare earth metals increased in recent years?
In recent years, there has been an increase in demand for green energy. Hence the demand for elements like neodymium and dysprosium, which are used in wind turbine motors, has increased.
Also, the push for switching from internal combustion cars to electric vehicles has also led to a rise in demand for rare earth magnets — made from neodymium, boron, and iron — and batteries.
What does this rare earth metals discovery mean for Europe and the world?
Relief for European countries: Against the backdrop of the fraught relations between China and other western countries, the new discovery of a deposit of rare earth elements in Sweden has come as a relief for the latter.
Challenges China’s monopoly: Currently, no rare earths are mined in Europe and it mostly imports them from other regions. According to a report, 98 percent of rare earths used by the European Union were sent by China.
– China has repeatedly used its monopoly in the rare earths market for furthering its geopolitical agendas. In 2010, China blocked Japan’s access to rare earth elements over Tokyo’s detention of a Chinese fishing trawler captain.
Strengthens Minerals Security Partnership(MSP): In 2022, the US and 10 other partners came together for this alliance known as MSP. The goal of the MSP is to secure supply chains of critical minerals, aimed at reducing dependency on China. This discovery in Sweden will give a boost to the partnership.