Can new 400 billion kronor investment transform Sweden’s mining industry?

Sweden's state-owned mining company LKAB has committed to investing hundreds of billions of kronor to go carbon-neutral by 2045, described as potentially the largest industrial investment ever in the Nordic country.

Can new 400 billion kronor investment transform Sweden's mining industry?
LKAB's mine in Kiruna, northern Sweden. Photo: Hanna Franzén/TT

LKAB said on Monday it would invest up to 400 billion Swedish kronor ($46.6 billion) to “achieve net-zero carbon emissions from its own processes and products by 2045”.

Investments of between 10 and 20 billion kronor would be made yearly over a period of 15 to 20 years, the company said.

“This is the biggest transformation in the company's 130-year history and could end up being the largest industrial investment ever made in Sweden,” Jan Moström, president and CEO of LKAB, said in a statement.

The strategy to reach net-zero emissions would focus on three branches, one being a new standard for mining and another the use of fossil-free technology to extract strategic minerals from today's mining waste.

Lastly the company would leverage green energy, likely using hydrogen, to produce another form of iron known as “sponge iron” rather than traditional iron ore pellets, greatly reducing emissions during the steel-making process.

“In switching from iron ore pellets to carbon-free sponge iron we are taking an important step forward in the value chain, increasing the value of our products and at the same time giving our customers direct access to carbon-free iron,” Moström said.

In early November, the company announced it had created the world's first “fossil-free” iron ore pellets, with biofuel taking the place of oil and coal during the heating process.

The development of fossil-free “sponge iron” is part of a joint project between LKAB, steelmaker SSAB and state-owned utility Vattenfall with the aim of developing a fossil-free process for producing steel, which relies on the combination of iron ore and coal.

According to LKAB, their Swedish operations currently produce 700,000 tonnes of carbon emissions a year, or about four percent of Sweden's industrial emissions, making it Sweden's fourth largest emitter.

The mining giant added that global steel and iron production today accounted for about seven percent of the world's emissions, and that widespread use of “sponge iron” could greatly reduce global emissions.

LKAB also said the transition would mean the creation of 3,000 jobs but with the steel market “forecasted to grow by 50 percent by the year 2050”, LKAB also expected their carbon-free offering would also greatly increase its revenues.

During the transition, LKAB would continue to sell “iron ore pellets in parallel with developing carbon-free sponge iron”, the company said.

During a press conference on Monday, Moström however also pointed to a number of challenges that had to be overcome to achieve the transition, including the need for technological developments and large-scale production of green energy to power facilities.

Isadora Wronski, head of Greenpeace Sweden, said they welcomed LKAB's “ambition to remove fossil energy from their processes”. but added that the aim of going fossil-free was “not enough.”

“Industries first and foremost need to reduce their use of resources… and the energy used needs to be sustainable, eliminating any plans for large-scale bio energy use,” Wronski said in an emailed statement to AFP.

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‘Reassess your cultural background’: Key tips for foreign job hunters in Sweden

Many foreigners living in Sweden want to stay in the country but struggle to find a job, despite having relevant qualifications. The Local spoke to three experts for their advice.

'Reassess your cultural background': Key tips for foreign job hunters in Sweden

One international worker who found it hard to land her first job in Sweden is Amanda Herzog, who eventually founded Intertalents in Sweden with the aim of helping other immigrants find work in the country.

Herzog originally came to Sweden to study at Jönköping University and decided to stay after graduating.

“I thought it would take three months, maybe six months to find a job, I was prepared for that,” she told The Local during a live recording of our Sweden in Focus podcast held as part of Talent Talks, an afternoon of discussions at the Stockholm Business Region offices on how to attract and retain foreign workers in Sweden.

“What happened was it took over 13 months and 800 applications to actually get a job in my industry, within marketing.”

During this time, Herzog was getting multiple interviews a month, but was not getting any further in the process, despite showing her CV to Swedish recruiters for feedback.

“They were baffled as well,” she said. “By the time I landed my dream job, I had to go outside of the typical advice and experiment, and figure out how I actually can get hired. By the time I got hired, I realised what actually works isn’t really being taught.”

‘Reassess your cultural background’

Often, those who come to Herzog for help have sent out hundreds of CVs and are unsure what their next steps should be.

“My first piece of advice is to stop for a second,” she said. “Reassess your cultural background and how it fits into Sweden.”

Herzog, for example, discovered she was interviewing in “the American way”.

In the US, when asked to tell an interviewer about yourself, you’d be expected to discuss your career history – how many people have you managed? Did sales improve while you were working there? – while Swedes are more likely to want to know about you as a person and why you want to work in a specific role for their company in particular.

“A lot of people don’t know this, so imagine all of the other cultural things that they’re doing differently that they learned in their country is normal,” Herzog adds.

“Just start with learning, because it could be that you don’t need to change very much, you are qualified, you just need to connect with the Swedish way of doing things.”

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Networking is important

“Don’t hesitate to reach out for help and guidance,” said Laureline Vallée, an environmental engineer from France who recently found a job in Sweden after moving here nine months ago with her partner, who got a job as a postdoc at KTH Royal Institute of Technology.

“You tend to insulate yourself and consider yourself not capable, but you’re not less capable than you were in your home country, you just need to explain it to the employers.”

Another tip is to network as much as you can, Vallée said.

“Networking is really important here in Sweden, so just go for it, connect with people in the same field.”

This could be through networks like Stockholm Akademiska Forum’s Dual Career Network, which helps the accompanying partners or spouses of foreign workers find a job in Sweden, or through other connections, like neighbours, friends, or people you meet through hobbies, for example.

Make a clear profile for yourself

Another common issue is that applicants are not presenting themselves clearly to recruiters, Stockholm Akademiska Forum’s CEO, Maria Fogelström Kylberg, told The Local.

“If you’re sending 600 applications without an answer, something is wrong. We have seen many people looking for jobs working in a supermarket, and the next application is a managing director post,” she said. “You have to decide ‘who am I? What do I want to do?’, you have to profile yourself in a clear way.”

This could be editing down your CV so you’re not rejected for being overqualified, or just thinking more closely about how you present yourself to a prospective employer.

“Which of my skills are transferable? How can I be of use to this company? Not what they can do for me, but what problem can I solve with my competence?”

Job hunters should also not be afraid of applying for a job which lists Swedish as a requirement in the job description, Fogelström Kylberg said.

“Sometimes if I see an ad for a job and I have a perfect candidate in front of me, I call the company and say ‘I have a perfect candidate, but you need them to speak Swedish’, they then say ‘no, that’s not so important’. This is not so unusual at all so don’t be afraid of calling them to say ‘do I really need perfect Swedish?’”

Listen to the full interview with Maria Fogelström Kylberg, Amanda Herzog and Laureline Vallée in The Local’s Sweden in Focus Extra podcast for Membership+ subscribers.

Interview by Paul O’Mahony, article by Becky Waterton