The discovery of rare-earth elements on an island in Japanese waters is great news in terms of global production of the products. It will enable Japan to break China’s current stranglehold on availability which it severely restricts “at times of diplomatic tension.”
A tiny island in the Pacific Ocean is the site of a huge discovery that has been described as a “game changer”.
Japanese researchers have mapped vast reserves of rare-earth elements in deep-sea mud — enough to feed global demand on a “semi-infinite basis”, according to a new study published in journal Scientific Reports.
The deposits, found within Japan’s exclusive economic waters, contain more than 16 million tonnes of the elements needed to build hi-tech products from smartphones and radar devices to missile systems and electric vehicles, according to the study.
For instance, yttrium, one of the metals included in the recent discovery, can be used to make camera lenses, superconductors and mobile phone screens.
The research team — comprised of several universities, businesses and government institutions — surveyed the western Pacific Ocean near Minami-Torishima Island, Japan. According to the study, the findings have “tremendous potential” to be a source of rare-earth elements.
In a sample area of the mineral-rich region, the team’s survey estimated 1.2 million tonnes of “rare-earth oxide” was deposited there. The survey was conducted jointly by researcher with Waseda University Yutaro Takaya, and Yasuhiro Kato of the University of Tokyo, among others.
Technology Metals Research LLC founding principal Jack Lifton, who wasn’t involved in the research, told The Wall Street Journal “this is a game-changer for Japan”.
“The race to develop these resources is well under way,” he said.
The finding extrapolates that a 2500sq km region off the southern Japanese island should contain 16 million tonnes of the valuable elements, and “has the potential to supply these metals on a semi-infinite basis to the world”.