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Japan finds rare earth supply that may ease tech shortages

updated 12:05 pm EDT, Mon July 4, 2011

Japan finds rare earth minerals for tech in Hawaii

Japan's Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology has made a discovery that could end technology shortages and reduce dependence on China. A total of 78 very large deposits have been found at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, near Hawaii, that equate to about 80 billion to 100 billion metric tons of material like yttrium (pictured). The material should be easy to get out and is even low on the dangerous uranium and thorium that often affects these deposits, the Agency explained to The Guardian.

The minerals will help get the phosphors and other materials needed for displays, including LCDs and their LED backlighting, as well as in mobile device batteries, hybrid cars, and others. They could guarantee a steady supply of material for these supplies and help companies like Apple and Toyota alleviate bottlenecks on production for iPads, smartphones, and a rapidly growing demand for more eco-friendly vehicles.

For most countries, the move could also help avoid depending heavily on just one or two countries for all their supply. While rare earth minerals exist across the world, most of the 110 billion tons of existing supply are concentrated in China with some in Russia and some its former Soviet-era territories. The divide not only gives just a handful of countries a bargaining chip but pushes the US and others further into deals where political conflicts and human rights can be problematic.

China has said before that it doesn't plan to tighten foreign access to rare earth minerals and has lately raised export levels. As the largest manufacturing base in the world, however, much of what it mines can stay in the country. The southeast Asian state has only a partial incentive to export since greater dependence on China lets it fulfill its ambitions of being a global superpower. [image via Images of Elements]

by MacNN Staff



  1. SockRolid

    Joined: Dec 1969


    China isn't in Southeast Asia

    ..."The southeast Asian state"...

    Southeast Asia consists of the countries south of China, east of India and north of Australia. Though, apparently, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan are occasionally considered to be part of Southeast Asia.

  1. The Vicar

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Won't make much of a difference...

    This will be sold to the highest bidder, which will be Chinese because they want to preserve their market corner. And in any event, working rare earth metals into useable condition is a significantly different process than other metal smelting, so other countries like the U.S. (which has lost all its capacity over the last decade) couldn't cope with it they tried. And China is unlikely to lower prices when they control the whole supply.

  1. prl99

    Joined: Dec 1969


    near Hawaii but not near enough

    Found a more extensive article that said the deposits were found around Tahiti and in international waters near Hawaii. That means anyone can mine the deposits around Hawaii, which probably means the US won't because insurance and costs would offset any potential gains from the material.

  1. Hillbilly Geek

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Boo Hoo

    Buck up. Great news! We can do this, if we really want, and if the bureaucracy gets its foot off the neck of industry. That's the real bottleneck.

  1. lockhartt

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Easy to get to?

    Really, at the bottom of the ocean. Sounds great. Should be just as easy and harmless as, say, drilling for oil in the Gulf of Mexico.

    Given Japan historical disregard for environmental concerns, "easy to get to" probably comes at significant environmental costs - which, of course, everyone will disregard until it's too late to do anything about.

    Pillage and plunder for an easy buck, then scratch our heads when it all goes pear-shaped... what a crazy world we live in.

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