updated 12:05 pm EDT, Mon July 4, 2011
Japan finds rare earth minerals for tech in Hawaii
Japan's Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology has made a discovery that could end technology shortages and reduce dependence on China. A total of 78 very large deposits have been found at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, near Hawaii, that equate to about 80 billion to 100 billion metric tons of material like yttrium (pictured). The material should be easy to get out and is even low on the dangerous uranium and thorium that often affects these deposits, the Agency explained to The Guardian.
The minerals will help get the phosphors and other materials needed for displays, including LCDs and their LED backlighting, as well as in mobile device batteries, hybrid cars, and others. They could guarantee a steady supply of material for these supplies and help companies like Apple and Toyota alleviate bottlenecks on production for iPads, smartphones, and a rapidly growing demand for more eco-friendly vehicles.
For most countries, the move could also help avoid depending heavily on just one or two countries for all their supply. While rare earth minerals exist across the world, most of the 110 billion tons of existing supply are concentrated in China with some in Russia and some its former Soviet-era territories. The divide not only gives just a handful of countries a bargaining chip but pushes the US and others further into deals where political conflicts and human rights can be problematic.
China has said before that it doesn't plan to tighten foreign access to rare earth minerals and has lately raised export levels. As the largest manufacturing base in the world, however, much of what it mines can stay in the country. The southeast Asian state has only a partial incentive to export since greater dependence on China lets it fulfill its ambitions of being a global superpower. [image via Images of Elements]