Japan breaks China's stranglehold on rare metals with sea-mud bonanza

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    Mar 25, 2013 1:31 AM GMT
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/comment/ambroseevans_pritchard/9951299/Japan-breaks-Chinas-stranglehold-on-rare-metals-with-sea-mud-bonanza.html

    Japanese scientists have found vast reserves of rare earth metals on the Pacific seabed that can be mined cheaply, a discovery that may break the Chinese monopoly on a crucial raw material needed in hi-tech industries and advanced weapons systems.
  • Rhi_Bran

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    Mar 25, 2013 2:25 AM GMT
    And heeeere come the naysayer environmentalists...
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    Mar 25, 2013 2:29 AM GMT
    Rare earth isn't rare at all. It is the extraction process and accompanying heavy pollution that put off production in most of the world. For a long time China needs the dollar bills for the treasury and the mining jobs for his massive working population. That is why it takes on the dirty job and supplies the advanced economies with massive amount of rare earth. Time has changed. Right now foreign reserve isn't an issue for China. But environmental challenge has become one of the biggest headaches for Chinese government. It is natural that the China will cease to supply the world at this own expense, and that some other countries will take on the responsibility. Sure the prices of the rare earth elements will go up substantially. That is how market works.
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    Mar 25, 2013 5:03 AM GMT
    Yeah... and these "cheap" seabed mines have been just around the corner for fifty years now. icon_rolleyes.gif

    BTW: Japan made a huge investment, about 20 years ago, to buy their way into deep-ocean science. Ships, submarines, laboratories... bigger and better than anyone else's. So far the results have been pretty mediocre, (as you would expect from government-drected science.) but they keep issuing press releases. Because politically, they sort of have to. However, they do have very, very cool toys.
  • FRE0

    Posts: 4862

    Mar 25, 2013 6:47 AM GMT
    zukunft saidRare earth isn't rare at all. It is the extraction process and accompanying heavy pollution that put off production in most of the world. For a long time China needs the dollar bills for the treasury and the mining jobs for his massive working population. That is why it takes on the dirty job and supplies the advanced economies with massive amount of rare earth. Time has changed. Right now foreign reserve isn't an issue for China. But environmental challenge has become one of the biggest headaches for Chinese government. It is natural that the China will cease to supply the world at this own expense, and that some other countries will take on the responsibility. Sure the prices of the rare earth elements will go up substantially. That is how market works.


    Quite true.

    Also, when mining "rare" earth metals, large amounts of thorium are discarded which is unfortunate because thorium can be used instead of uranium in reactors that are designed to use thorium, mainly the liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR). There has already been enough thorium mined and discarded to provide for the world's energy needs for more than 100 years. Also, the LFTR would solve most of the problems that make people uneasy with our current pressurized water reactors which use uranium.

    For more information, check this out:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9M__yYbsZ4
  • Rhi_Bran

    Posts: 904

    Mar 25, 2013 1:55 PM GMT
    zukunft saidRare earth isn't rare at all. It is the extraction process and accompanying heavy pollution that put off production in most of the world.


    This is true. Rare earth elements (REEs) are actually fairly abundant in the Earth's crust. What makes them "rare" is that they are extremely dilute in almost all kinds of rock. It takes very specific formation conditions for a rock to concentrate rare earth elements.

    Typically, highly evolved and fractionated felsic rocks contain large amounts of rare earths (mostly pegmatites and monazites). This is because REE's do not like to go into mineral structure unless they have absolutely nowhere else to go - they are highly incompatible in a solid structure. Because evolved felsic rock is essentially mantle material that has been remelted and fractionated countless times, you get a bunch of REE's getting stuck in it because they are unable to "jump ship" to a mafic melt.

    Thus, while there are REE's in essentially all rocks, it is simply not cost effective to try and extract them from all rocks. The less REE's in a material, the more costly it becomes to pull them out, and the more pollution you produce attempting to do so.

    Sorry, had to nerdgasm about this, my senior paper was on the subject of REE's and their role in dating ancient crust icon_redface.gif
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    Mar 25, 2013 3:05 PM GMT
    ^^^ Geology nerdiness. Sigh. icon_biggrin.gificon_biggrin.gificon_biggrin.gificon_biggrin.gificon_biggrin.gif
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    Mar 26, 2013 5:46 AM GMT
    @Rhi_Bran, no need to apologize. I enjoyed your post. It is very informative. Keep it up.

    On a similar note, a UK company wants to collect metal-enriched rock nodules that litter the seabed. It was reported in Nature last week. Cool stuff.

    ArticleCameron’s government sponsored Lockheed’s claim to the 58,000-square-kilometre potential mining site through the company’s subsidiary UK Seabed Resources in London. The International Seabed Authority in Kingston, Jamaica, which granted the exploration rights, has also granted claims in the region to several other countries, but work towards harvesting has been slow. The UK effort has advantages, says Antrim: Lockheed has proven technologies and the most nodule-bed data.