Researchers in Japan have uncovered and mapped enormous reserves of rare earth metals, which are vital to the production of modern electronics, in a finding that will undermine Chinese producers' de facto monopoly on the key materials.
Fifteen elements in the lanthanide chemical family and two metals -scandium and yttrium - comprise the rare earth metals market.
These elements are fundamental to the production of electric motors, nuclear reactors, mobile phones, conventional and electric vehicles, wind turbines, solar panels, and missile guidance systems.
The Chinese government is believed to have tried to corner the global market on behalf of Chinese firms for strategic political reasons, by subsidising production until non-Chinese rivals went out of business. Chinese producers now account for 95 per cent of the global market.
However, the team of Japanese scientists from several of the country's universities, businesses and government institutions, said the new mineral deposit could offer "great potential as ore deposits for some of the most critically important elements in modern".
It was found within Japanese economic waters, in the country's western Pacific Ocean near Minamitorishima Island, Japan.
The deposit, dubbed "rare earth oxide" was found in a sample area of the mineral-rich region and apparently contains more than 16 million tons of the elements needed to build high-tech products, according to the study, which was released Tuesday in the journal Scientific Reports.
The researchers said the mineral "has the potential to supply these metals on a semi-infinite basis to the world" due to there being hundreds of years of reserves of most of the rare earths.
The team has also developed an efficient method to separate valuable elements from others in the mud.
The study also emphasised the significance of the efforts to develop efficient and economic methods to collect this deep-sea mud.
"The enormous resource amount and the effectiveness of the mineral processing are strong indicators that this new (rare-earth rich mud) resource could be exploited in the near future," the study added.
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