Japan to Subsidize Robotic Deep-Sea Mining Research


"World's richest seabed gold, silver and REE deposits may be worth $241B."

Japan's Natural Resources and Energy Agency will commission JOGMEC to develop robotic deep-sea mining technology to evacuate minerals, which will then be piped to a support ship on the surface.

Experiments for the project will begin this year on a submerged test model with the goal of commercial application in 10 years.

Target areas for the deep-sea mining are hydrothermal deposits in the Okinawa trough northwest of Okinawa Islands and the Bayonnaise submarine caldera off the Iza-Ogasawara Island chain south of Tokyo. Both areas are believed to contain among the world's richest seabed deposits of gold, silver and REEs.

Scientists have been aware of the presence of REEs in seabed rocks since the 1960s. In the March 2010 issue of Oceanography, USGS Geologist (and specialist in seabed minerals) James Hein, Physical Science Technician Tracey Conrad and Scripps Research Geologist Hubert Staudigel published a paper on harvesting seamount mineral deposits as a source of REEs. "The case can be made that deepwater seabed mining is inevitable in the future," the scientists observed, "owing to the critical and strategic metal needs for human society."

The cost of developing Japan's seabed mining-model program, including the support vessel, is estimated at US$241M$361M). Seabed mineral resources in Japan's territorial waters are believed to be worth ~US$241 billion.

JOMEC plans to deploy the robots at depth of up to 2,000 meters.

Hydrothermal vents, which are believed to have created the deposits of high-grade massive sulphides, are often found in volcanic basins often in the western Pacific near the so-called "ring of fire."

China, Russia and now Japan are believed to be the countries most interested in mining seabed massive sulphide deposits, followed by India and South Korea.

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