The discovery of millions of tons of rare earth metals on a deserted Pacific Ocean island is hailed as a game changer for the world economy.
Mud deposits around the island contain the metals in a quantity reported to be enough to feed the world’s demand ‘semi-infinitely’.
Geologists say they have detected more than 16 million tonnes of the metals which are integral to making electronic devices from smartphones to guidance systems for space craft.
The deposit was discovered by a research teammade up from universities, government bodies and businesses.
The team surveyed the Pacific within Japan’s economic area and found the metals near the island of Miniami-Torishima.
Balance of global market tilted
The researchers said they expect a 2500 square kilometre zone off the 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”.
They added that the reserves offer “great potential as ore deposits for some of the most critically important elements in modern society.”
If confirmed, the discovery tilts the balance of the global market of rare earth metals.
China mines and exports a massive 80% of the world’s rare earth metals and controls supply and pricing.
Beijing not only controls the supply but allows Chinese companies to access the elements ahead of foreign competitors.
Not so rare metals
Now, Japan will have a natural resource that matches that in China, bringing more competition to the market and freeing non-Chinese companies from the Beijing chokehold.
To extract the rare earth metals, the Japanese research team has had to devise a way of separating the deep-sea muds from the elements.
“The enormous resource amount and the effectiveness of the mineral processing are strong indicators that this rare-earth rich mud resource could be exploited soon,” the study said.
Rare earth metalsare not that rare and make up the 25thmost abundant element on the planet.
Governments feared supply would run out due to the reliance of electronic technology on rare earth metals. Some countries are stockpiling supplies, while others are looking at exploiting mines to garner their own resources.