One of the more common statements about rare earth elements is that they are neither rare, nor earths. The big problem with the rare earths market is that, depending on the source, China accounts for nearly 90 percent of the global production. Part of the reason for this is that these elements are difficult to mine economically.
Will a new discovery near a Japanese island change this? Wall Street Journal reports huge rare earth metal deposits were discovered near Minamitori Island, located about 1850km southeast of Tokyo. The reserve contains hundreds of years worth of rare earths:
A roughly 965-square-mile seabed near the island contains more than 16 million tons of rare-earth oxides, estimated to hold 780 years’ worth of the global supply of yttrium, 620 years’ worth of europium, 420 years’ worth of terbium and 730 years’ worth of dysprosium, according to a study published this week in Nature Publishing Group’s Scientific Reports.
While it's an interesting find, it's doubtful whether it's a game changer. The deposits are located in a very remote area, in deep sea mud thousands of meters underwater. Furthermore, we're talking about concentrations of rare-earth elements and yttrium (REY) of just 5,000 parts per million (ppm), so mining will be difficult, costly, and controversial. However, the researchers believe the use of a hydrocyclone separator could make mining more economic, by selectively recovering biogenic calcium phosphate grains, which have higher REY content (up to 22,000?ppm).