The Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology announced yesterday that huge rare earth minerals were found in the Pacific, specifically east and west of Hawaii. While that is a bit vague (I have not yet read the full report only the article) that does open an interesting twist.
The article states existing technology to process sea floor mud can easily extract the rare earth metals. This is important because 97% of the worlds supply comes from China. The other large known reserve is Afghanistan, a means many see as the way to economically develop the country after the ravages of war. It is not expected to be meaningfully productive for at least 15 years due to a complete lack of established mining infrastructure. China has been increasingly limiting exports of the materials, instead wanting supplies for internal development of its own technology firms. (Another factor in US-Sino relationships that is sometimes forgotten when individuals try to "simplify" international diplomatic relationships - another blog post) This is constraining growth in Japan, the largest consumer of the rare earth minerals. It also causes concern to Western nations as rare earth minerals are critical components to modern defense equipment and weapons.
This report seems to open a third large supply. Rare earth minerals are needed to create batteries for hybrids and other high technology devices. This is important because manufacturers are, without success, scrambling to find alternative suppliers and substitutes to using rare earth minerals in their products.
If it can be extracted, from international waters, using established technology, what possibility is there for the Hawaiian economy to diversify? It adds to the hi-tech sector in Hawaii while using some of the existing labor pool in a new way. Thoughts? Does anyone have additional information?