‘Rare earths’ not so rare

Japanese scientists have discovered huge deposits of “rare earth” minerals on the mud floor of the Pacific Ocean around Hawaii and Tahiti.

These minerals are crucial for making electronics products such as smartphones, tablet devices, flat-screen TVs and hybrid cars.

Until now China, with the largest land-based deposits of these minerals, has had about 97% of global production. An announcement in December that they would drastically reduce exports led to fears of shortages and higher prices .

The new-discovered deposits are apparently easy to extract and could expand the known deposits of the materials by a thousand times. The estimated size of the deposits is 80bn to 100bn tonnes, compared with current confirmed global reserves of about 110m tonnes.

If that is true, our supply of ipads and hybrid cars is safe.

The only downside seems to be that the extraction process involves “simple acid leaching”. It is not clear what impact, if any, there would be on local ecosystems, either from that process (carried out at sea), or simply from the pumping of the mud from the sea-floor and presumably the dispersal of ‘waste’ mud back into the sea once the rare earths have been extracted, might have on local ecosystems.

Source: Guardian

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