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Researchers have discovered an abundant supply of rare-earth metals in the deep-sea mud near an island in Japan.
The research, which was published in the journal Scientific Reports, revealed that rare-earth metals were found near Japan’s Minami-Torishima Island—a territory located around 1,800 kilometers southeast of Tokyo. These metals are used to create products like smartphones, detection devices, and electric vehicles.
Among the rare-earth metals found are dysprosium /dɪsˈproʊ si əm/, europium /yʊˈroʊ pi əm/ , yttrium /ˈɪ tri əm/ , and terbium /ˈtɜr bi əm /. Dysprosium is utilized to produce magnets for electric vehicles and generators. On the other hand, europium is used in creating information-storing memory chips and in the production of the red color in television screens. Camera lenses make use of yttrium, while lasers use terbium.
Based on the research findings, the amount of these metals is equivalent to 16 million tons. This suggests that they have an almost infinite supply.
Despite the metals’ abundance, mining them has a number of hurdles. At the moment, there is no available technology for deep-sea mining and it might take decades for such technology to be developed. Geologist John Wiltshire also pointed out that the development of technology needed for processes like scraping and cutting the seafloor might amount to billions.
In addition, several environmental groups strongly oppose deep-sea mining as it can devastate marine ecosystems. In fact, the International Seabed Authority is now developing rules and regulations against deep-sea mining.