In the summer of 2023, extended investigation work will start at the TU Bergakademie Freiberg on the so-called Per Geijer iron ore apatite deposits of the Swedish state-owned company Luossavaara-Kiirunavaara Aktiebolag (LKAB) near Kiruna.

According to the participating deposit geologists at TU Freiberg, the current research activities of the LKAB show a promising raw material potential for rare earths and phosphorus as by-products of iron ore extraction.

"Rare earths increasingly determine our standard of living, as they are built into almost all electronic products and are needed in significant quantities for the production of high-performance permanent magnets, for example for wind turbines. Phosphorus is one of the most important fertilisers for the agricultural industry and of great importance for the global agricultural economy. In order to reduce the dependence on these critical raw materials, which are currently imported from China, for example, known deposits must be further developed," estimates Prof. Thomas Seifert, Head of the Chair of Deposit Science and Petrology at the TU Bergakademie Freiberg. At the beginning of January, LKAB announced that it had discovered the largest European rare earth deposit to date in the Per Geijer deposits north of the city of Kiruna in northern Sweden. The TU Bergakademie Freiberg has already been conducting research in this deposit district since 2018 and was significantly involved in the characterisation of the ores of the Per Geijer deposits.

Current knowledge shows great raw material potential

According to the joint investigations by LKAB and TU Bergakademie Freiberg, the Per Geijer deposits consist of a total of five ore bodies, which in addition to iron ore minerals, such as magnetite and hematite , also have significant contents of phosphates, mainly apatite. "The Per Geijer deposits are particularly characterised by their high content of phosphates," explains Prof. Thomas Seifert. According to the current knowledge of the Freiberg experts, phosphorus as well as the so-called light rare earths, such as lanthanum, cerium, neodymium and samarium, can be extracted from the apatite they contain.

"We must now continue with the further characterisation of the phosphates and their rare earth contents in order to have as much information as possible for the processing tests that will follow later," says Dr Patrick Krolop, who, after completing his doctorate at TU Bergakademie Freiberg, has been working for the Swedish company in Kiruna as a research engineer since 2022. According to the first investigations, it is also positive that the ores of the Per Geijer deposits have only very low concentrations of harmful elements such as arsenic, cadmium, uranium, thorium and chlorine.

Future research work in Freiberg

In the next three years, rare earth-containing phosphates are to be analysed and characterised in more detail as a major research project of TU Freiberg together with LKAB. The work is scheduled to begin in the summer of 2023 and will be 100% funded by LKAB. "This is a continuation of our successful cooperation with LKAB, and with our applied deposit research at TU Bergakademie Freiberg we are making a significant contribution to the future supply of critical raw materials within Europe," adds Prof. Dr Thomas Seifert. The project is funded by LKAB with a grant of approximately 430,000 euros.