Rare Surprise

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"Experts equate REE extraction from 20,000 ft. underwater to mining the moon."

World, Daniel Devine

Japan's REE findJapanese scientists' recent rare earth elements (REEs) find on two-fifths of 1 square mile of Pacific Ocean mud was reported to contain enough REEs to meet one-fifth of annual global demand.

However, while visionaries may have salivated at the news, many mining experts scoffed—comparing the prospect of extracting REEs from as deep as 20,000 feet underwater to mining the moon. "There's never been a mine in production at anywhere near those depths, and there won't be in our lifetime," the president of one rare earth exploration company said.

But with mining technologies already being developed for shallower waters, others think extracting the rare earths could become feasible in the near future, as demand and prices for the metals continue a steep, upward trend. China, which currently controls 97% of global rare earth supply, sent tremors through markets last year when it temporarily blocked exports of the metals to Japan during a territorial dispute. This month, a Chinese official hinted the country would relax export restrictions after a public rebuke by the World Trade Organization.

DysprosiumUncertainty over the supply of rare earth earth metals has spiked prices. Dysprosium, which possesses unique magnetic properties for which many rare earths are valued, was priced at $300 per kilogram last year. Today, it's $3,600/kg.

A rare earth mine in Mountain Pass, California reopened last year and is expected to bring U.S. production back into the market it once dominated. Laptops, power-tool motors, the U.S. military's Predator drones and hundreds of other technologies depend on the metals.

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