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Japan aims to mine rare earth elements on the seabed

The discovery of the potential of millions of tons of valuable "rare earth" elements in Japanese mudflow has boosted Asia's second-largest economic hopes of reducing dependence on Chinese supplies, but extracting minerals used for diverse technologies including cell phones to electric vehicles is expensive and difficult, especially when buried for miles in the ocean.

A study reveals that some 16 million tonnes of rare earth is enough to meet global demand and make headlines internationally where Japan is the world's second largest consumer of these minerals but relies heavily on imports from China that control 90 percent of strategic markets.

Tinuku Japan aims to mine rare earth elements on the seabed

China takes about 150,000 tons of rare earth by 2016, but it limits supply amid political tensions. Japan is looking for some way to free itself from dependence on China's supply. Japanese companies are working on recycling products, developing technology without scarce land and investing in foreign mining projects as mineral exchange.

"We are not talking about the technology of future dreams that are far away.We are doing a study to make this possible.This can also serve as a diplomatic card. If the price is made above this level, we can develop on the seabed," said Yutaro Takaya from Tokyo Waseda University.

It can take up to 10 years or more to advance a rare earth project from discovery to a mine producing on land. The discovery in Japan is still in its infancy and will take several years to determine whether mining will be feasible. There is currently no lucrative way to extract rare earth more than five kilometers below the surface.

Producing 1,000 tons of rare earth oxides will require the mining of over one million tons of mud. The United States Geological Survey estimates last year about 120 million tons of rare earth deposits worldwide with 44 million tons in China, 22 million tons in Brazil and 18 million tons in Russia.


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