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Breakthrough discovery: Europe’s largest rare earth deposit found in Norway

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Rare earth elements (REEs) are a group of 17 chemical elements comprising Scandium, Yttrium and the 15 lanthanides, including notable elements such as Neodymium, Dysprosium and Terbium. Despite the term “rare earths,” these elements are relatively abundant in the Earth’s crust, but they are rarely found in concentrated and economically viable deposits.

Unique properties and applications

REEs are highly valued for their distinct properties:

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  • Permanent magnets: Essential for electric vehicle motors and wind turbine generators.
  • Electronics: Key components in smartphones, computer hard drives, and other modern devices.
  • Green technologies: Crucial for the development of clean energy solutions and energy-efficient technologies due to their exceptional magnetic, electrical and thermal properties.

Significance of REN’s discovery

The discovery by Rare Earths Norway (REN) of the largest rare earth deposit in continental Europe is a groundbreaking development with far-reaching implications:

1. Decreasing reliance on China

China currently dominates the rare earth market, controlling approximately 69% of global production and 88% of refining processes. This dominance creates a strategic risk for other nations, particularly in Europe and North America, which depend heavily on Chinese exports for these vital materials.

2. Boosting European resource independence

Europe relies on external sources for over 98% of its rare earth supply. This new discovery has the potential to enhance the region’s resource independence, decreasing its reliance on external providers and strengthening the security of supply for critical materials essential to the low-carbon and digital economy.

3. Economic and strategic advantages

Adding an estimated 8.8 million tonnes of rare earths to the global market could establish Norway as a significant player in the rare earths industry, potentially fulfilling 10% of European demand by 2030. This would have substantial economic benefits, including job creation, technological advancement, and more resilient supply chains within Europe.

4. Environmental and regulatory challenges

While promising, the development of mining operations poses significant environmental challenges. Extracting and processing rare earths can result in habitat destruction and pollution. Norway and the European Union must ensure that these operations comply with strict environmental standards to mitigate negative impacts and secure public approval.

5. Timing and market influence

Despite the promising nature of the discovery, the process of bringing rare earths to market will be lengthy. REN anticipates that initial mining operations might commence by 2030. Meanwhile, global demand for rare-earth-based technologies is projected to double by 2050, driven by the green energy transition and increasing adoption of electric vehicles.

6. Competitive landscape and financial requirements

Developing new mining projects in the rare earths market is highly competitive and requires substantial investment, estimated at nearly 870 million euros for the initial phase of mining operations.

7. Complementary strategies

To ensure a sustainable and secure supply of rare earths, Europe must complement mining activities with effective recycling strategies and material reduction initiatives. Recycling rare earths from end-of-life products can provide an additional source, reducing the reliance on new mining operations.

Conclusion

The discovery of Europe’s largest rare earth deposit by REN marks a significant milestone with the potential to reshape the global rare earths market. It represents a crucial step towards reducing dependence on China, bolstering Europe’s resource independence, and supporting the transition to a sustainable, low-carbon economy. Realizing the full benefits of this discovery will require careful planning, substantial investment and adherence to environmental best practices.

This discovery positions Europe to play a more prominent role in the global rare earths industry, leading to more diversified and resilient supply chains essential for future technological and economic growth.

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