Meeting the growing demand of minerals sustainably

16 July 2021

LKAB Minerals is an international player in the industrial minerals market with a top position in a number of product applications. As a part of Swedish state-owned company LKAB, LKAB Minerals is one of the world’s leading producers of highly upgraded industrial minerals. The Link had a chat with CEO Darren Wilson on groundbreaking minerals, iron ore and movements in the industrial minerals market. 

LKAB started operations as early as 1890 and is today producing close to 27 million tonnes of iron ore products and is a growing supplier of minerals, services, and high-tech products for mining and other industries. In light of the 100 year-old Swedish mining industry, LKAB produces iron ore that goes into the steel industry and has a history of non-steel applications, such as radiation shielding and civil engineering projects. In 1989 a separate division at LKAB was formed specialising in selling iron ore into non-steel applications. This was the birth of the industrial mineral business that now has 400 employees in 12 international locations supplying over 40 minerals into multiple applications. Outside of Sweden, the UK is the largest business and where the group minerals business is run from. Apart from an obvious need for a minerals division, Darren, CEO of LKAB Minerals, says that LKAB Minerals is all about resource efficiency. When mining, you take out more than the primary material needed for the end application. “Any modern sustainable mining company needs a secondary minerals business to maximise the resource efficiency from what is mined. We currently supply by-products into applications. Such as Civil Engineering and water treatment, and we are now investing in technology to extract rare Earth elements and agricultural phosphates in the future. Europe is currently dependant on other parts of the world to supply these minerals that are critical for the growth of green technology.”

LKAB Minerals now processes minerals in many locations outside of Sweden that give a complementary route to market for LKAB by-products. “By having a business outside of Sweden, we are present in core markets such as construction, agriculture and green technology.” Darren nods to the complex macroeconomics side of minerals and the increasing global middle-class population with a growing demand for washing machines, telephones and even better hospitals with improved equipment. “If you take a smartphone, it has around 50 different elements and there is no area in the world where you dig a hole in the ground and extract all 50 elements together. The raw materials naturally occur in many different locations. So, we are in a world where we want to decarbonise and protect the environment, yet we still need more minerals. Therefore, when we do mine for minerals, we have a responsibility to extract the maximum resource possible and keep the environmental impact to a minimum.” Last but not least, there is a practice around how components are recycled from the extraction. It all comes down to mineral efficiency, which is absolutely critical to LKAB’s holistic approach to sustainability. 

”We are in a world where we want to decarbonise and protect the environment, yet we still need more minerals.”

Combating challenges and perceptions
A common contradiction and yet an approachable thought is that extracting resources is simply the wrong thing to do. “We hear well-intentioned politicians talk about protecting the environment and limiting resource extraction. In the same speech, they discuss the importance of investing in green technologies such as the drive for electric vehicles, renewable energy generation, more complex hospital equipment or other supporting technologies. Those technologies wouldn’t exist without metals and industrial minerals, so the key is to extract material in an efficient, decarbonised way and then utilise waste streams from manufacturing components and recycling the finished products after use. And that is essentially where LKAB Minerals position ourselves.” 

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