Rare earth metals that can be used in smartphones and tablets are discovered on the ocean floor.
If you’ve ever left the house without your phone, you have an idea of how dependent we have become on these devices. What you may not know is that the screen, circuitry, and speakers of your phone are made out of Yttrium, Praseodymium, and Dysprosium– rare earth metals that are becoming scarce, while mobile phones and tablets becomes more in-demand. Fortunately, geochemists in Germany may have discovered an alternative- deep sea rocks.
Lumps of iron and magnesium, called ferromanganese nodules, are all over the ocean floor. They build up slowly over time as iron and magnesium becomes dissolved in sea water debris. Other metals, including earth metals, then become attached to the nodules. German geochemists discovered that if they applied the solvent Desferal to the lumps of ferromanganese, they are able to extract up to 80 percent of the earth metals, allowing them to be stored and repurposed. In addition to mobile devices, earth metals can be used for solar panels and wind turbines.
130,000 metric tons of earth metals are mined each year, and 95 percent of it is mined in China. In two years, we will need at least 185,000 metric tons, and demand is only increasing. Extracting earth metals from ferromanganese lumps would not only preserve China’s dwindling supply, but also level the playing field so more countries become able to harness their own stockpiles. This untapped natural resource could ensure enough earth metals to cover usage for the next 200 years.