In a find that could help lessen China’s stranglehold on the world’s rare earth mineral supply, Japan announced Friday it had discovered a deposit large enough to supply the needs of its own high-tech industries for more than 200 years.
Nearly 7 million tons of rare earth minerals – used in such items as iPods, wind turbines and electric cars, have been located under the seabed near a far eastern Japanese island, Tokyo University professor Yasuhiro Kato told Agence France-Presse.
The samples, taken from an area near Minamitorishima island, approximately 1,250 miles southeast of Tokyo, contained a substantial amount of the element dysprosium, a rare earth element used in the manufacture of hybrid cars, according to the wire service.
“Specifically on dysprosium, I estimate at least 400 years’ worth of Japan’s current consumption is in the deposits,” said the professor, who examined mud samples taken from the seabed at a depth of around 18,000 feet.
Despite their name, nearly all the 17 elements classified as rare earths elements are relatively plentiful in the Earth’s crust.
However, because of their geochemical properties, rare earth elements are typically dispersed and not often found in concentrated and economically exploitable forms.
China is the world’s largest producer of rare earths, generating more than 97 percent of the world’s supply, according to CNN.