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 Sweden is rightly known as the home of rare earth elements (REE's), as many were first discovered in a quarry in the village of Ytterby, near Stockholm. Cerium, erbium, holmium, lanthanum, scandium, terbium, thulium, ytterbium, yttrium were separated and named by Swedish and Finnish chemists. The important REE mineral bastnäsite originates from the Swedish village of Bastnäs, where cerium ore was mined in the late 1800's (now a Tasman project).

Tasman's research has shown the Scandinavian region is well endowed with REE, including former REE mines, and shows good examples of iron deposits with REE in apatite; carbonatites enriched with Y, Ba, La, Se; pegmatites; and REE-bearing peralkaline igneous rocks.

YTTERBY MINE, SWEDEN -- WORLD RECORD IN RARE EARTH DISCOVERIES

On Resarö Island, only 20 km from downtown Stockholm is the Ytterby mine. Historically, it is one of the most important localities during the discovery of REE's. The mine has a remarkable history which goes back to the 17th century at a time when Sweden was one of Europe's super powers.

In the 19th century the mine sourced the rocks from which the discovery of seven rare earth elements was made, and in the post the WWII era it was used as underground oil storage by the Swedish government. Today it is regularly recognized and honoured with a visit by the winners of Noble's price in Chemistry and Physics.

The mining history at Ytterby mine spans over 300 years. In the 17th century it was mined for quartz which was use by the iron works in Northern Uppland. Feldspar mining for the production of glass and porcelain commenced in the end of the 18th century and this continued until 1933 when the mine was closed. At the time of production the location on an island outside Stockholm was ideal.

The harbor, which today hosts recreational sailing boats, is located only a few hundred meters from the main shaft. From the harbor the minerals where shipped to porcelain factories in Stockholm such as Rörstrands and Gustavsbergs which in later years have had a revival in many Swedish homes.

Geologically, Ytterby is a pegmatite dike. An amateur geologist named Carl Axel Arrhenius, made regular visits to Ytterby where he would look for minerals. In the year 1787 he found an exceptionally heavy rock at one of the waste dumps. Carl realized the importance of his find, and was fortunately well connected in the academic world. He split the rock and sent it off to several chemists. The most successful was Professor Johan Gadolin, at the Åbo University (in present day Finland). Gadolin discovered that the mineral was a new "earth element" (the concept oxide did not exist at the time) with the chemical composition Y2FeBe2Si2O10. To honor Johan Gadolin the mineral was named Gadolinite.

Several other exotic minerals have been located in Ytterby. After the discovery of the mineral gadolinite, it took almost 50 years before first rare earth element was isolated. The list below shows the elements that have been discovered from the Ytterby mine. To honor the locality, most elements have been given locally derived names.

1843 Terbium discovered by Carl Gustaf Mosander
1843 Yttrium discovered by Carl Gustaf Mosander
1878 Ytterbium discovered by Jean-Charles G de Marignac (named after Ytterby)
1879 Erbium discovered by Per Teodor Cleve
1879 Holmium discovered by Per Teodor Cleve (Stockholm in latin)
1879 Scandium discovered by Lars Fredrik Nilsson (after Scandinavia)
1879 Thulium discovered by Per Teodor Cleve (Latin for the Nordic countries)

The mining and exploration days at Ytterby are over since long ago. Today, Ytterby mine is being rehabilitated from the years as an oil storage site. Under present plan, it will be another 20 years until it is fully recovered. Meanwhile it will hopeful get more recognition being the unique and scientifically noteworthy mine it is.

References:

http://www.ab.lst.se/templates/InformationPage____6816.asp
http://teknik360.idg.se/2.8229/1.186905/ytterby-gruva---ett-industriminnesmarke
http://www.hembygd.se/index.asp?DocID=2785