Mud at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean contains surprising concentrations of rare earth elements, 17 chemicals with exotic names like neodymium and europium that are critical to technologies ranging from cell phones and televisions to fluorescent light bulbs and wind turbines.
Hot plumes from hydrothermal vents pulled these materials out of seawater and deposited them on the seafloor, bit by bit, over tens of millions of years. One square patch of metal-rich mud 2.3 kilometers wide might contain enough rare earths to meet most of the global demand for a year, Japanese geologists report July 3 in Nature Geoscience.
“I believe that rare earth resources undersea are much more promising than on-land resources,” says Yasuhiro Kato, a geologist at the University of Tokyo who led the study.
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