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Japan finds a huge cache of scarce rare-earth minerals

The date of: 2019-01-07
viewed: 1

Rare earth elements are a set of 17 metals that are integral to our modern lifestyle and efforts to produce ever-greener technologies. The "rare" designation is a bit of a misnomer: It's not that they're not plentiful, but rather that they're found in small concentrations, and are especially difficult to successfully extract since they blend in with and resemble other minerals in the ground. China currently produces over 90% of the world's supply of rare metals, with seven other countries mining the rest. So though they're not precisely "rare," they are scarce. In 2010, the U.S. Department of energy issued a report that warned of a critical shortage of five of the elements. Now, however, Japan has found a massive deposit of rare earths sufficient to supply the world's needs for hundred of years.

Japan located the rare earths about 1,850 kilometers off the shore of Minamitori Island. Engineers located the minerals in 10-meter-deep cores taken from sea floor sediment. Mapping the cores revealed and area of approximately 2,500 square kilometers containing rare earths.

Japan's engineers estimate there's 16 million tons of rare earths down there. That's five times the amount of the rare earth elements ever mined since 1900. According to Business Insider, there's "enough yttrium to meet the global demand for 780 years, dysprosium for 730 years, europium for 620 years, and terbium for 420 years."

The bad news, of course, is that Japan has to figure out how to extract the minerals from 6-12 feet under the seabed four miles beneath the ocean surface — that's the next step for the country's engineers. The good news is that the location sits squarely within Japan's Exclusive Economic Zone, so their rights to the lucrative discovery will be undisputed.


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