The miner, which aims to start production of REEs in 2027, has taken the step following exploration results that showed the company's total mineral resources amount to 2.3 million tonnes.
"The exploration results confirm that while LKAB mines iron ore, there is a potential to produce phosphorus from the ongoing production," said the company. In LKAB's ores the REE's and phosphorous are bound to the apatite. The company has developed a process that recycles mine waste to produce an apatite concentrate.
LKAB said that while the phosphorus content in LKAB's ores is relatively low, up to 0.6 %, that the total volume is significant for Europe's reliance on imports.
The company's resources can increase Europe's phosphorus self-sufficiency by 50% and LKAB can supply up to 30 % of the continent's REE demand.
"We don't have to operate a dedicated mine; that is the strength of the circular business model where we get the phosphorus and rare earth elements as a bonus from the iron ore mining. But it requires innovative processing and value-added beneficiation to take steps forward in the value chain" said Leif Boström, senior vice president business area special products, LKAB.
The company plans to process apatite into phosphorus and rare earth elements at a green-field Industrial Park in the Swedish coastal town of Luleå or Skellefteå.