Scientists in Japan have discovered a large deposit of minerals that are essential for the manufacturing of electronic products such as tablet computers, flat-screen TVs and smartphones. The discovery was made on the floor of the Pacific Ocean near to Hawaii by a team led by the University of Tokyo‘s professor of earth science Yasuhiro Kato.
There have been recent concerns over the decreasing levels of this ‘rare earth’ mineral. However, following this discovery it is thought that known deposits of this mineral have expanded by around a thousand times.
“The deposits have a heavy concentration of rare earths. Just one sq km (0.4 sq mile) of deposits will be able to provide one-fifth of the current global annual consumption,” commented Professor Yasuhiro Kato.
Currently China produces around 97% of the global supply of crucial metals which are used in products such as the Apple iPad. In December it announced that it was cutting exports of the materials which instantly led to concerns over a shortage or increased prices for products that used them. At the time of the announcements Sony commented that the decision was a hindrance to free trade.
The metals are also used for the manufacturing of products such as high-tech electronics, magnets, batteries, LED valves and hybrid cars. Extracting the minerals from the ocean floor is a relatively simple. “Sea mud can be brought up to ships and we can extract rare earths right there using simple acid leaching. Using diluted acid, the process is fast, and within a few hours we can extract 80-90% of rare earths from the mud,” commented Professor Kato.