Hundreds of years’ worth of rare-earth materials were found beneath Japanese waters, according to a study published in Nature Publishing Group’s Scientific Reports. The discovery is enough to supply the world on a “semi-infinite basis,” writes Yen Nee Lee for CNBC. Researchers found the materials beneath the Pacific Ocean seabed 1,150 miles southeast of Tokyo.
Manufacturers use these materials in high-tech products such as electric vehicles, mobile phones, and batteries, explains Lee. Currently, the world relies on China for most of its rare-earth materials. The Wall Street Journal reported that the discovery of the deposits could pit Japan against China to become the world’s largest producer of the materials. In 2010, China withheld from Japan shipments of these materials, Reuters reported in 2014. China’s action caused exports to Japan of certain types of rare-earth materials to jump by as much as 10 times. Consequently, Japan began the search for its own supply.
The 965 square-mile seabed (near Minamitorishima Island) where the materials were found has more than 16 million tons of rare-earth oxides. That is equal to 780 years’ worth of yttrium, 620 years of europium, 420 years of terbium, and 730 years of dysprosium, describes Lee. A group of Japanese government-backed entities, companies, and researchers are in the process of planning for the feasibility of extracting the metals from the seabed—an expensive affair.