LKAB extracts apatite from mine waste

Swedish mining company LKAB is trialling a new process that recycles mine waste to produce an apatite concentrate, with the eventual aim of producing phosphorus mineral fertilisers, rare earth elements, fluorine and gypsum.
LKAB extracts apatite from mine waste LKAB extracts apatite from mine waste LKAB extracts apatite from mine waste LKAB extracts apatite from mine waste LKAB extracts apatite from mine waste

LKAB ReeMap pilot apatite concentrate in hand

The apatite concentrate process is the first phase of LKAB's ReeMAP project, which is being trialled in a pilot plant built on container platforms so it to be moved within and between LKAB's production plants in Malmberget and Kiruna, in northern Sweden.

"We are now up and running with the first step, to produce apatite concentrate, although in a pilot scale," said Leif Boström, senior vice president for business area special products and chief executive of LKAB Minerals. "We need to test, verify and plan this production thoroughly to obtain the right yield and cost of production. Additionally, we are planning for a production that is energy efficient and carbon dioxide-free."

Tests with tailings sand from the two mines and the respective processing plants will be carried out in separate campaigns. Flotation is the key principle applied to separate the apatite from the non-valuable tailings, with this process repeated in several steps to obtain a high purity product with the right specification for further processing.

Further processing will be done using chemical processing, and LKAB is currently developing the method. 

"We estimate that a full-scale production from Malmberget and Kiruna will produce around 400,000 tonnes of apatite concentrate annually, in two plants that will be of similar size to our existing iron ore concentrating plants. When we can be up and running depends on the technical developments and the pre-engineering, but also relies heavily on external factors such as environmental permits. Our objective is to recycle our mine tailings to critical raw materials, and the sooner the better," said Boström.