Metals including rare-earth elements and yttrium (REY) are critical for motors and batteries, and the scarcity of supply, either for geological or political reasons, has been a major consideration.
Writing in Nature, the team of 20 from universities and institutes across the country examined deep sea mud in the western North Pacific Ocean near Minamitorishima Island off Japan that has over 5,000ppm of various rare earth elements providing 1.2 million tonnes of material.
Rare-earth elements and yttrium (REY) are critical materials to many leading-edge technologies due to their unique physical and chemical properties. Applications include hybrid vehicles, rechargeable batteries, wind turbines, light emitting diodes, compact fluorescent lamps, screen display panels, and many medical applications using magnets.
Using a hydrocyclone separator enabled the researchers to selectively recover calcium phosphate grains that have a high content of such elements (up to 22,000ppm) that shows that the source could be easily exploited in the near future.
The find would account for 62, 47, 32, and 56 years of annual global demand for yttrium (Y), europium (Eu), terbium (Tb) and dysprosium (Dy) respectively. The site would also supply many of the other rare earths.