Deep-sea mud in the Pacific Ocean as a potential resource for rare-earth elements

Yasuhiro Kato, Koichiro Fujinaga, Kentaro Nakamura, Yutaro Takaya, Kenichi Kitamura, Junichiro Ohta, Ryuichi Toda, Takuya Nakashima, Hikaru Iwamori

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Abstract

World demand for rare-earth elements and the metal yttrium-which are crucial for novel electronic equipment and green-energy technologies-is increasing rapidly1-3. Several types of seafloor sediment harbour high concentrations of these elements4-7. However, seafloor sediments have not been regarded as a rare-earth element and yttrium resource, because data on the spatial distribution of these deposits are insufficient. Here, we report measurements of the elemental composition of over 2,000 seafloor sediments, sampled at depth intervals of around one metre, at 78 sites that cover a large part of the Pacific Ocean. We show that deep-sea mud contains high concentrations of rare-earth elements and yttrium at numerous sites throughout the eastern South and central North Pacific. We estimate that an area of just one square kilometre, surrounding one of the sampling sites, could provide one-fifth of the current annual world consumption of these elements. Uptake of rare-earth elements and yttrium by mineral phases such as hydrothermal iron-oxyhydroxides and phillipsite seems to be responsible for their high concentration. We show that rare-earth elements and yttrium are readily recovered from the mud by simple acid leaching, and suggest that deep-sea mud constitutes a highly promising huge resource for these elements.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)535-539
Number of pages5
JournalNature Geoscience
Volume4
Issue number8
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2011 Aug
Externally publishedYes

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ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)

Cite this

Kato, Y., Fujinaga, K., Nakamura, K., Takaya, Y., Kitamura, K., Ohta, J., Toda, R., Nakashima, T., & Iwamori, H. (2011). Deep-sea mud in the Pacific Ocean as a potential resource for rare-earth elements. Nature Geoscience, 4(8), 535-539. https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo1185