Sweden-based miner LKAB says it will invest SEK45 million ($4.8 million) in pilot plants that could see phosphorus and rare earth metals produced from its own mine waste.
These plants are part of a prefeasibility study to define a commercial mine waste recycling process, ReeMAP, LKAB President and Group CEO Jan Moström said.
The company has made this decision after laboratory tests during 2018 confirmed it could produce more phosphorus and rare earth metals than previously estimated.
From LKAB’s iron ore production, a residual product resembling sand is currently placed in tailings dams. In the ReeMAP project, LKAB intends to recover the residual product and extract rare earth metals (REE) and monoammonium phosphate (MAP) from it.
Recovery and upgrading to phosphorus and rare earth metals is enabled by a patented process that has been developed by the Swedish company EasyMining, which is a Ragn-Sells innovation company within the Ragn-Sells Group. EasyMining is a partner in the ReeMAP project. The core process is based on EasyMining’s CleanMAP technology, which separates phosphate from water through ion sorption instead of energy demanding evaporation. At the same time, it removes impurities such as cadmium, uranium, fluorine in the MAP.
Leif Boström, Senior Vice President, Special Products Division, LKAB, said: “We are going to build two pilot plants for development and preparation for full-scale industrialisation: one in the orefields and one in Uppsala.”
The orefields plant will produce apatite from tailings sand, while the plant in Uppsala will be run by EasyMining, according to Boström.
Full-scale industrial production of MAP will correspond to an estimated 500% of Swedish demand and production of REE will amount to about 2% world production, according to LKAB. The pilot phase will continue through 2020, with a decision to go ahead with full-scale production possibly taken in 2021.
A pilot plant and a part of the full-scale production facilities will be situated close to LKAB’s existing plant´s in northern Sweden. Subsequent processing will take place in another location, for which three main alternatives are now being assessed, according to the company. The three main alternatives are Luleå, Helsingborg and Skellefteå.
Moström: “ReeMAP is a very good example of circular economy, of recovering and reintroducing resources. We will focus on developing an operation in the location that is the best alternative from an environmental point of view, minimises transportation of materials and utilises resources in the best way.
“If we succeed with the industrialisation process, we will create a whole new industry in Sweden that will supply the agriculture and engineering sectors with critical raw materials while at the same time generating jobs and value for society.”