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article imageJapan claims Rare Earth Metals find with 'semi-infinite' supply

By Karen Graham     Apr 15, 2018 in Technology
The discovery of a treasure trove of deep-sea mud off the coast of Japan contains enough rare earth metals to supply the world for centuries to come, according to researchers.
Every day, the world uses products manufactured using Rare Earth elements, or metals. From Smartphones to wind turbines, electric cars to LED lights - the rare Earth's are indispensable to our technological world.
According to the study published last week in Scientific Reports, the huge deposit, which lies within the Japanese exclusive economic zone (EEZ) around Minamitorishima Island (Marcus Island), is estimated to contain 16 million tons of the rare Earth elements, enough to last for hundreds of years.
In particular, the study says there are enough deposits of rare-Earth oxides to meets the world's demand for yttrium for 780 years, europium for 620 years, terbium for 420 years and dysprosium for 730 years. The deposit “has the potential to supply these metals on a semi-infinite basis to the world,” the study said.
Getting to the undersea deposit
The biggest problem may be in getting to the vast Rare Earth minerals deposit. The tiny island of Minamitorishima is about 1,500 miles (1,800 kilometers) Southeast of Tokyo and almost 4.0 miles (6,000 meters) under the sea. However, the team of scientists say the cost of extracting the minerals can be reduced by processing the seabed mud using a hydrocyclone separator.
Vortex separator (hydrocyclone) Exhibit in the Houston Museum of Natural Science  Houston  Texas  US...
Vortex separator (hydrocyclone) Exhibit in the Houston Museum of Natural Science, Houston, Texas, USA. Photography was permitted in the museum without restriction.
A hydrocyclone separator often referred to as a "cyclone," is a device to classify, separate or sort particles in a liquid suspension based on the ratio of their centripetal force to fluid resistance.
Cyclone separators come in industrial-sized packages now -and are used in wastewater treatment, removing sand and other applications. So what the scientists are suggesting certainly would be a workable solution to extracting the rare Earth minerals.
And since the news of the discovery was made public, relevant companies, like Japan Drilling is up 13 percent and Modec, a Japanese supplier, and operator of offshore floating platforms is up 5 percent.
“It is important to secure our own source of resources, given how China controls the prices,” said Yutaro Takaya, the Waseda University professor who led the study, as quoted by the Wall Street Journal.
Locality and bathymetric maps of the research area. Star symbols show the piston coring sites  and t...
Locality and bathymetric maps of the research area. Star symbols show the piston coring sites, and the color-coding corresponds to each research cruise as noted in the legend. The white rectangle shown in the detailed map is the target area where the resource amount estimation was conducted.
Scientific Reports
The growing need for Rare Earth Minerals
As Fortune notes, the finding of the rich deposits of minerals is going to be a boon for tech companies in Japan. For years, the biggest source in the world for Rare Earth Minerals has been China.
China in the past, has monopolized the supply of the metals, successfully keeping the prices high to suit the needs of their economy and has in the past, halted exports of the minerals to Japan when the two countries have been at odds. The last time this occurred was over a dispute about islands.
In 2010, China cut export quotas on its Rare Earth Metals, causing prices to spike by 40 percent. Countries had to go to the World Trade Organization to get relief, resulting in China dropping the quotas, according to the Financial Post.
The researchers said more study on developing the resource and economic evaluations was being done by a collaboration of industry, academia and the Japanese government.
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