Now your rare earth elements may come from the sea rather than from China. A think tank from the New York based Council on Foreign Relations said that it was economically and environmentally unviable, but this has not stopped Japan.
Currently the rare earth elements that are in high demand are scandium, lanthanum, cerium, thulium, praseodymium, neodymium, europium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, yitterbium, and lutetium.
As of now China produces almost all the rare earth elements and has captured 95% of the global market. These minerals are essential to all kinds of high tech gadgets from hybrid cars, laptop batteries, plasma televisions to long range missiles.
A study by Yasuhiro Kato of the University of Tokyo said that there were hot spots of rare earth accumulation in the Pacific Ocean bed. One square km of area near Hawaii could hold as much as 25,000 metric tons of rare earths. David Abraham, an international affairs fellow at CFR said that to get these minerals out of the ocean in the foreseeable future and to be economically viable is still a long, long way off.
Abraham said that while the study shows that the concentrations of rare earths are higher than currently what you find in China, what makes China profitable is that the concentrations are very close to the surface. These researchers found resources in higher concentrations, but they’re 2 to 3 miles down, they’re far from any shore, there are a number environmental factors that are really not clear and the technology really isn’t there at the moment.