Key raw materials necessary for modern devices such as cell phones, laptop computers and flat-screen TVs may be found in abundance on the ocean floor, Japanese scientists report in the journal Nature Geoscience.
Yasuhiro Kato and his colleagues at the University of Tokyo say they surveyed 78 sites on the Pacific Ocean floor and found high concentrations of rare-earth elements and the metal yttrium.
"We estimate that an area of just one square kilometer, surrounding one of the sampling sites, could provide one-fifth of the current annual world consumption of these elements," the scientists report.
And, the scientists say, the rare earths might not be difficult to extract.
"We show that rare-earth elements and yttrium are readily recovered from the mud by simple acid leaching, and suggest that deep-sea mud constitutes a highly promising huge resource for these elements," they wrote.
That would be good news for the market for rare earths, 97% of which now come from China, according to media reports. Recent Chinese moves to limit exports of rare-earth minerals has caused price spikes, Mother Nature News reports.
But writing on Nature.com, journalist Nicola Jones reports that deep-ocean rare-earth mining might not be that simple. Jones quotes Gareth Hatch of Illinois-based Technology Metals Research:
"People talk about mining on the asteroids or the moon. This isn't that hard, but it's similar."
But based on what we make with these minerals (read the Mother Nature News report), it may be a task the world want to take on.