Rare earths pose familiar problems
If you want a little preview on what will drive the world economy and ultimately a great deal of world affairs in the foreseeable future, pull out your Dymaxion Map, your periodic table, watch and read t0day's post. Rare earth metals are also critical to the development of renewable energy technologies like wind turbines.
This raises several important questions, not the least of which is are there design alternatives that minimize or eliminate the need for these metals?(GW)
Discovery of rare-earth deposits reported
Japanese team says it found easily extractable sources on Pacific floor of metals crucial to electronics industry.
July 4, 2011
Vast deposits of rare earth minerals, crucial in making high-tech electronics products, have been found on the floor of the Pacific Ocean and can be readily extracted, Japanese scientists say.
Details of the discovery were published on Monday in the online version of the British journal, Nature Geoscience.
The discovery was made by a team led by Yasuhiro Kato, an associate professor of earth science at the University of Tokyo, including researchers from the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology.
"The deposits have a heavy concentration of rare earths," Kato said on Monday.
"Just one square kilometre of deposits will be able to provide one-fifth of the current global annual consumption."
The team found that sites close to Hawaii and Tahiti were especially rich in rare earths, Kato said.
Kato estimates rare earths contained in the deposits amounted to 80bn to 100bn tonnes.
These deposits are huge compared to global reserves currently confirmed by the US Geological Survey of just 110 million tonnes that have been found mainly in China, Russia and other former Soviet countries, and the US.
The level of uranium and thorium, radioactive ingredients that are usually contained in such deposits that can pose environmental hazards, was found to be one-fifth of those in deposits on land, Kato said.
Japan, which accounts for a third of global demand, has been stung badly, and has been looking to diversify its supply sources, particularly of heavy rare earths, such as dysprosium used in magnets.
"Sea mud can be brought up to ships and we can extract rare earths right there using simple acid leaching," he said.
Kato gave no estimate of when extraction of the materials from the seabed might start.