Friday, March 29, 2013

How Deep Sea Mud Found off a Tiny Japanese Island May Change the Gadget Economy


Tiny Minami-Torishima Island, which is key to Japan finding rare earth metals within its own waters. Via Wikipedia

Inside of all the world's gadgets–all of our technology in general, really–is a melange of rare earth elements, which aren't as hard to find as their name suggests, but which are hard to mine efficiently. Currently, China pretty much dominates the world market for the crucial elements, but a huge find underneath Japan's seas may now help break that stranglehold.

China wasn't always dominant in the rare earth game. Other countries, including the US and war-torn Congo, have and still do mine for the metals. But over the years, China used its massive domestic supply to outprice operations around the world, which eventually disappeared. Then, in 2010, China began restricting supply, which caused uproar from the EU, US, and Japan, who all complained to the World Trade Organization.

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