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The search for battery riches in Sweden starts with this rock collection

UPDATED: Sun., Sept. 2, 2018, 10 p.m.

Geologist Edward Lynch points at a map of Sweden at the drill core archive of the Geological Survey of Sweden in Mala. (Mikael Sjoberg / Bloomberg)
Geologist Edward Lynch points at a map of Sweden at the drill core archive of the Geological Survey of Sweden in Mala. (Mikael Sjoberg / Bloomberg)

Being home to Europe’s biggest rock collection has finally come in handy for Sweden amid the global race for the scarce metals that power electric cars.

For more than a century, the Nordic nation has accumulated thousands of ore samples – so many that if they were laid end to end, they’d stretch from Minneapolis to Mexico and beyond. They’re stored at the Geological Survey of Sweden’s drill core archive, where visitors pay $110 a day to examine rocks stashed in rows and rows of wooden crates in hopes of spotting rich deposits of minerals like cobalt, the bluish-grey mineral that’s got carmakers in a tizzy.

Initially extracted in search of base metals like iron ore or copper, the rocks are getting a second look because Sweden is a rare part of Europe that boasts all the raw materials used to make batteries.

“If you’re in mineral exploration, this is really the only place to be,” said Amanda Scott, a geologist who helps mining companies find the best spots for minerals like cobalt, lithium and vanadium.

The library is about a nine-hour drive north of the capital Stockholm, nestled deep in the forests of the Lapland province. The collection has long drawn geologists fascinated by the Baltic Shield, the segment of the Earth’s crust that encompasses Sweden and is rich in Precambrian crystalline rock, among Europe’s oldest.

But the focus has changed as the global hunt for battery mineral resources prompts miners and geologists to re-examine old exploration sites in places like Canada, western Australia and Finland, currently the only place in the European Union that extracts cobalt.

Bringing Sweden into the fold is important for European carmakers because at the moment, 60 percent of global production centers on Democratic Republic of Congo, where corruption is rampant and Amnesty International has chronicled the use of child labor at some artisanal mines. Most of Congo’s cobalt, meanwhile, is refined in China, which has dominated the battery supply chain.

If exploited, Sweden’s cobalt reserves could power more than 4 million vehicles, something the government is betting will revive the mining industry after this decade’s commodity slump stifled new projects.


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