Every time someone goes out and buys a new TV, laptop, iPad, Android smartphone, or any such device they are using up some of our rare earth minerals which these gadgets require to work. They are called rare not because there is only a small amount on earth, but because the deposists are small and therefore require a lot of mining to recover very little.
Another problem exists in the fact China holds about 97% of the rare earth mineral market, and it decides how much exits the country. This pushes up prices and makes it more difficult for companies outside of China to not only manufacture enough devices, but also to keep the costs of those gadgets competitive.
It will come with great relief then, to hear that Japanese researchers have found very rich deposits of rare earth minerals as well as the metal yttrium. In total around 26 sites located in the international waters of the Pacific Ocean have been found to have high concentrations buried between 3,500 and 6,000 meters beneath the sea bed.
The deposits are so rich they are thought to increase our reserves by 1000x. Current reserves are estimated at 110 million tonnes, but this new discovery adds another 100 billion tons.
Not only does this take the pressure off in terms of finding alternatives in the near future, the locations of the deposits near Hawaii and Tahiti means the reliance on Chinese exports will be removed. Prices should fall and competition will not be influenced by a lack of supply.
Most importantly for geeks out there, this assures future supplies meaning companies like Apple, Samsung, Sony, and HTC can continue to supply us with the latest gadgets on a regular basis.