Japan finds rare earth materials that could lower the cost of electronics

Japan finds rare earth materials that could lower the cost of electronics
Rare earth materials are an essential part of modern electronics, including our favorite tablets and smartphones. The trouble has been that for about the last two decades, China has held the vast majority of these materials, which has led to high costs. But, Japan has now found large deposits of rare earth materials in the ocean, and may use this new find to bring down costs.

The find was made by professor Yasuhiro Kato and his team from Tokyo University in Japan's Exclusive Economic Zone around the island of Minami-Torishima. The materials were found in deep-sea mud at 5,700 meters below sea level; and despite the depth, the deposits can be extracted fairly easily using pressurized air. Professor Kato said a single ship drilling in the zone could supply Japan's needs for a year, and break strategic dependence on China. "We don't need to mine it intensively. All we need is enough to force China to lower its prices."

This is especially important because while other countries like the US and Australia have been increasing production of the seventeen rare earth elements, China still controls the heavier metals such as dysprosium, terbium, europium, and ytterbium. Making the situation worse, China began to restrict exports in 2009, and forced companies to build factories in China. 

In addition to mobile electronics, these rare earth materials are used in electronics including car parts, TVs, lasers, low-energy lightbulbs, and various military equipment and weapons. 

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31 Comments

1. Captain_Doug

Posts: 1037; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

Great. This should really be a great thing.

2. smallworld

Posts: 517; Member since: Jul 13, 2012

Japan > all

11. jsdechavez

Posts: 799; Member since: Jul 20, 2012

Well, I praise the Japanese for this effort to have China lower its rates. Us, consumers, will benefit most from this - cheaper devices!! Nothing wrong with that.

16. TROLL

Posts: 4851; Member since: Apr 13, 2012

It's human nature for its acts

13. belovedson

Posts: 1061; Member since: Nov 30, 2010

i hope your not an american. if you are, you are spoiled rotten.

28. smallworld

Posts: 517; Member since: Jul 13, 2012

Thank God! I'm not.

26. Nikolas.Oliver

Posts: 1574; Member since: Jul 01, 2012

Japan is much better than China, Chinese people aren't civilized and rude they like to yell at each other ... If you go to a restaurant and speak English people there won't serve you

3. jaytai0106

Posts: 1888; Member since: Mar 30, 2011

Power of supply and demand...

12. 305Bucko

Posts: 506; Member since: Aug 07, 2011

I have a question... if its "rare"... doesnt that mean that it is not abundant and therefore not a good choice for mass production?

18. p0rkguy

Posts: 685; Member since: Nov 23, 2010

Here's an easier explanation. I'm buying bulks of raw material from you for $.10 each. Let's say you gain $1mil/y in profit from my purchases. I recently discover a new material that allows me to do the same as your material but the whole process of labor is much cheaper than buying it off you. Am I going to keep purchasing your material or am I going to mine this newly discovered one all the way to the center of the earth? Also, are you willing to go with $500k/y over nothing at all? You're basically going against the earth. You will end up having an abundance of raw materials and will beg me to buy it at $250k/y.

20. TheMan

Posts: 494; Member since: Sep 21, 2012

Bucko, as we learned in Chemistry 101, there's a section of the Periodic Table called Rare Earth elements or metals. The name is a bit misleading; the minerals are relatively plentiful, just not in concentrations that make extraction highly efficient.

4. TheLolGuy

Posts: 483; Member since: Mar 05, 2013

Wow, the Chinese government purposely restricted exports so companies were forced to build in China? Thats so dirty... I hope that manufacturing bubble blows up really bad for their poor decision...

8. squallz506

Posts: 1075; Member since: Oct 19, 2011

dude, china is smart. there are deposits in central africa too, and companies are basically raping the land and giving nothing back to the people. at least china used its leverage to create jobs and revenues.

10. jsdechavez

Posts: 799; Member since: Jul 20, 2012

Well, China has to make jobs for their billion-strong population....

24. TechBizJP08

Posts: 495; Member since: Mar 25, 2013

Cheap pay that is,they also let minor work and not pay a single dime.lol

5. lolioslol

Posts: 182; Member since: Dec 10, 2012

Jesus do you even proof read before submitting your articles? Holy typos Batman...

6. buccob

Posts: 2968; Member since: Jun 19, 2012

this will only bring cost down to manufacturers. I don't expect them to sell cheap from now on... Still good for them... (P.s.: Sony lower your end user prices...)

7. InspectorGadget80 unregistered

Can someone explain me what is RARE EARTH is on electronics? Sorry all i remember someone told me its bad and its in every electornic device like PC's ect

14. Zero0

Posts: 592; Member since: Jul 05, 2012

They're heavy metals needed in small quantities for electronics. As far as phones go, I think they're mostly used in displays. There are other uses for them in technology (large batteries, magnets, etc.). The mining and refining of rare earth metals can get a bit nasty. They're usually mined alongside radioactive elements, and the chemicals needed to purify are not terribly eco-friendly. This is where a lot of the concern comes from, to my understanding.

17. bizwhizzy

Posts: 51; Member since: Aug 04, 2011

Can someone Google for me? Or come to my house and click the source link, then read to me?

30. RobotMan

Posts: 145; Member since: Apr 13, 2012

I am on the way. Airplane ticket please!

9. GeekNews

Posts: 9; Member since: Mar 25, 2013

"All we need is enough to force China to lower its prices" Yeah I doubt that'll happen! This is the same issue we face with Oil. One country can boost production and the others will lower it to maintain the artificially inflated prices.

15. TROLL

Posts: 4851; Member since: Apr 13, 2012

Wow I wonder how it would feel like skoba diving at that deep 5700 meter pressure levels,,,,?

19. p0rkguy

Posts: 685; Member since: Nov 23, 2010

Pretty sure scuba divers will die at that point...

25. TechBizJP08

Posts: 495; Member since: Mar 25, 2013

Not possible man,they use equipment like pressurized machines and stuff.

27. Droid_X_Doug

Posts: 5993; Member since: Dec 22, 2010

Robots. Like what was used to plug the BP blowout in Gulf of Mexico.

21. GJanee

Posts: 214; Member since: Jun 29, 2011

in my opinion this only matters for the manufacturers, you as a consumer will still pay for the brand name, not the quality of materials used

22. 8logic

Posts: 154; Member since: Mar 05, 2012

I'm Chinese and even I hate China for the s**t they do

23. Topcat488

Posts: 1415; Member since: Sep 29, 2012

This is "Good & Bad" news for Japan... Good that the material was found, bad that blasting pressurized air into that known "Earth Quake" fault line area, can't be too good.

29. MartianMe unregistered

Oh i see now,,so this is why china is growing big in their economy.

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