In a discovery that stands to bump China from the Rare Earth Material throne, the University of Tokyo has announced that it believes the Pacific Ocean holds over 100 billion tons of materials that are the heart and soul of many “green materials” – a number far larger than the USGS estimate of 100 million tons.
Yasuhiro Kato, the researcher behind the discovery, originally studied land-based samples. During his studies, he realized that most of the samples were originally part of the ocean floor, leading him to focus his effort on the current ocean floor.
Prior to the announcement, China controlled 97% of the worlds rare earth deposits. The discovery of these minerals in deep sea mud will allow for prices to drop and research to pick up. That is, of course, if the minerals can be recovered.
The scientific journal article states that the minerals can most likely be recovered by acid leeching – once environmental impact studies are done. Since most of the deep ocean floor is unexplored, no one knows exactly what the environmental impact of this mineral recovery. In the words of Jon Copley, an oceanographer based at the University of Southampton, UK, “We still don’t fully understand patterns of biodiversity in the deep ocean, so any plans to extract these resources must include a full assessment of environmental impact.”