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As defined by IUPAC, rare earth elements ("REEs") or rare earth metals are a set of seventeen chemical elements in the periodic table, specifically the fifteen lanthanides plus scandium and yttrium. Scandium and yttrium are considered rare earth elements since they tend to occur in the same ore deposits as the lanthanides and exhibit similar chemical properties.
Spooked by the Chinese embargo of rare earth elements the rare earth mining industry is busily looking and investing in rare earth mineral extraction. Several prospects look practical. Meanwhile Japan’s Yasuhiro Kato, associate processor at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Engineering is leading a research group that’s found widely distributed high-quality rare earth-rich mud in the central and southeastern Pacific Ocean.
First one asks is that kind of deposit possible to gather and how deep? Kato notes the mineral resources are distributed 3,500 to 6,000 meters below the surface of the sea, it is possible to mine and collect more than 40 million tons of rare earth-rich mud every year with existing technologies. Plus, the rare elements can be extracted from the collected mud in a short time by using, for example, dilute sulfuric acid.
As we see, there are huge metal resources in the sea. The question is how to extract them. The most general method consists in passing seawater through a membrane that contains functional groups that selectively bind to the species of interest. No known membrane is 100% selective for a single species, but it is possible to create membranes that can retain a small number of selected low concentration species. The adsorbates can be extracted from the membrane by flushing it with appropriate chemicals; a process called "elution". After this stage, the metal ions can be separated and recovered by precipitation or electrodeposition.
In practice, it is very difficult to extract low concentration ions at reasonable costs. Lithium extraction was tried in the 1970s (Schwochau 1984) but the tests were soon abandoned. The idea of extracting uranium has been around for a long time, at least from the 1960s (see Nebbia 2007 for a review). But just a few grams were extracted in Japan in the late 1990s (Seko 2003). Then, there is the old dream of getting gold from the sea. The German chemist Fritz Haber tried that in the 1920s but the task of extracting gold ions at concentrations of a few parts per trillion (ppt) was nearly desperate and, indeed, the attempt was a total failure.
Evidently, we have big problems here. That is not surprising: there is a lot of water in the ocean and, in comparison, very small amounts of useful metals.
Originally posted by tothetenthpower
reply to post by okamitengu
I see where you are coming from and I agree that asteroid mining is something we should look into and implement once we can, but for the immediate future this seems far more viable.
Secondly, this is the kind of infrastructure project a government can invest in that not only creates job, but creates long term employment. It creates revenue for the government and is something that the whole nation can get together and build.
Patriotism and nationalism should be reserved for grand creations, not grand conquests. We need to encourage a whole generation of scientists and engineers. The last batch were inspired by our exploits on the moon.
Perhaps our oceans can provide enough encouragement for the 2nd.
Patriotism and nationalism should be reserved for grand creations, not grand conquests.
Originally posted by Wrabbit2000
I have a thought and question to add to this, -Tenth. It's a great idea that I certainly had never thought of or had any idea the water contained in measurable levels and consistently.
However, that brings the question. Is all that perhaps necessary to be there in ways we don't or can't understand? It seems in the world around us things either develop to a balance as a cause or as an effect but either way, evething in nature seems to have a general balance over untold time to reach it.
Might marine life be dependent on the intake of these minerals in the water or even dependent life we either don't appreciate as being that yet or too deep/on the bottom to have noticed yet?
If this is all floating free in the water and there is no benefit to or from it, then by all means I'd love to see a way to recover it as we move into a future of increasing strife over these very things...as long as there isn't a giant whammy of unintended consequence at the end of it?