Japan to begin extracting rare earth metals from seabed in 2024

TOKYO, Dec 24 (Nikkei) - Aiming to reduce its reliance on China for rare earth metals, Japan will begin in 2024 to extract the essential materials for electric vehicles and hybrids from the mud on the deep sea bottom in an area off Minami-Torishima Island, a coral atoll in the Pacific Ocean about 1,900 kilometers southeast of Tokyo.

Tokyo plans to begin work to develop extraction technologies starting next year.

Mud rich in rare earth metals has been found on the seafloor at a depth of 6,000 meters in the target area. To get at it, Japan first needs to develop technologies to extract the resources from depths of 5,000-6,000 meters.

The kuroshio, or Japan Current, known to be among the world's fastest sea currents, passes the target area, which is also located in the path of typhoons. Experts say there are high technological hurdles for any endeavor to extract resources from deep-sea locations in such tough conditions.

When extracting oil and natural gas from seafloor sites, the deposits are under strong pressure, which pushes the resources out once a hole drilled from the surface reaches them. However, mud containing rare earth metals does not have this advantage, so it requires some means to bring it up to the surface, such as pumping, for example. ...continue reading

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