Japan has confirmed it has discovered a cache of rare earth metals soooooooo massive in its deposits, that it can supply the world on a “semi-infinite basis”.
So take that, China.
I didn’t use exclamation marks, because while exciting for Japan, it’s not that exciting for me… unless I’m getting a cut of the profits… and I’m not.
China, until this discovery, was pretty much the only supplier of rare earths and thus could set whatever damn price they liked… but now there’s competition… which also means consumers can choose to purchase from whichever entity they wish.
Found in waters near the out-of-the-way island of the Pacific Ocean, called Minami-Tori-shima (南鳥島, Southern Bird Island, aka Marcus Island), the seabed deposit located about 6,000 meters below sea level comprises some 965-square miles which should give out some 16 million tons of rare earth oxides.
Six thousand meters below sea level? How did they find it, and how do they get it out? No article I saw could answer those questions.
I suppose you dive into the water, grab a breath and swim down, smack it gently with a pick ax and go back up for air, breathe, go back down and try and find that piece of ore and come back up again. Rinse and repeat.
I suppose you could simply put down a tube to suck the seabed mud up and run it through a hydrocyclone separator… or at least that is what I would do. But what do I know? I’m not a hydro geologist, but I do play one in this blog.
Rare earths are any group of 17 chemically similar metallic elements: cerium (Ce); dysprosium (Dy); erbium (Er); europium (Eu); gadolinium (Gd); holmium (Ho); lanthanum (La); lutetium (Lu); neodymium (Nd); praseodymium(Pr); promethium (Pm); samarium; (Sm); scandium (Sc); erbium (Tb); thulium (Tm); ytterbium (Yb), and; yttrium (Y).
All, but scandium and yttrium are part of the lanthanides series.
|Clockwise, from top center (the black pile), are piles of praseodymium, cerium, lanthanum, neodymium, samarium, and gadolinium—rare earth oxides that used as tracers to determine which parts of a drainage basin are eroding. Image via Wikipedia, by Peggy Greb, U.S. Department of Agriculture - http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/graphics/photos/jun05/d115-1.htm|
Actually, promethium, which is radioactive, is kindda rare.
But while I have stared that they aren’t all that rare, rare earths are usually not found in concentrated enough amounts to be economically exploitable.
Okay… so what the heck do we need rare earths for?
We don’t… not unless you are into high-tech gadgetry, as they are utilized within the manufacture of phones, batteries and electric cars.
PS: I have always liked the music of Rare Earth. I love it when a drummer sings at the same time he plays, because it shows such a stupidly high level of coordination that I could never achieve. I can recall playing the accordion and never even being able to say “hello” at the same time. The same held true for the clarinet and saxophone… but that was because of other issues relative to the fact that they were woodwind instruments. I firmly believe that the band Rare Earth is one of those under-appreciated bands… their other big hit was, I Just want to Celebrate (another day of living).
PPS: Image at top of article via Wikipedia: