Japan discovers deep sea rare earth resources
The British journal Nature Geoscience has reported that Japanese researchers have discovered vast deposits of rare earth minerals, used in many hi-tech appliances, in the Pacific seabed.
Japanese geologists estimate that there are about a 100 billion tons of the rare elements in the mud of the Pacific Ocean floor. As China currently produces 97% of the world's rare earth metals used in critical components of electronic goods but especially in renewable energy and clean tech products, this could threaten its competitive advantage.
Japanese multi-nationals were amongst the first to notice China's moves to corner the rare earth markets and had appealed to the Japanese government for help in protecting resources.
Yasuhiro Kato, an associate professor of earth science at the University of Tokyo, said they had found the minerals in sea mud at 78 locations. "The deposits have a heavy concentration of rare earths. Just one square kilometre (0.4 square mile) of deposits will be able to provide one-fifth of the current global annual consumption," he said.
Up until now the US Geological Survey has estimated that global reserves are just 110 million tonnes, found mainly in China, Russia and other former Soviet countries, and the United States.
However while the reserves are to be found in in international waters east and west of Hawaii, and east of Tahiti in French Polynesia there will be huge environmental concerns over deep sea-bed mining.