It’s mud. A whole bunch of mud — an estimated 16 million tons, to be exact. And in that mud, there are massive, “semi-infinite” stores of valuable rare earth minerals.
Rare earth minerals contain rare earth elements (located here on the periodic table
) that are used in high-tech devices like smartphones, missile systems, radar devices and hybrid vehicles. For instance, yttrium, one of the metals included in this recent discovery, can be used to make
camera lenses, superconductors and cell phone screens.
According to a new paper published by a team of Japanese researchers
, this huge patch of mineral-rich deep sea mud lies near Minamitorishima Island, a small island 1,1000 miles off the coast of Japan.
The 16 million tons of materials could contain 780 years worth of yttrium, 620 years worth of europium, 420 years worth of terbium, and 730 years worth of dysprosium. In other words, according to the paper, it “has the potential to supply these materials on a semi-infinite basis to the world.”
That alone is a pretty big deal, but it becomes even more significant given the current supply and demand of rare earth metals. China currently holds a tight grip on the rare earth minerals
— controlling about 95% of global rare earths production as of 2015. Because of this, Japan and other countries rely on China to set prices and availability.
However, Japan has complete economic control over the new supply.
Even though Minamitorishima Island is more than a thousand miles away, it is still technically a part of Tokyo, in the village of Ogasawara, and falls within Japan’s economic borders.