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


World demand for rare-earth elements and the metal yttrium—which are crucial for novel electronic equipment and green-energy technologies—is increasing rapidly1,2,3. Several types of seafloor sediment harbour high concentrations of these elements4,5,6,7. 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.

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Figure 1: Distribution of average ΣREY contents for surface sediments (<2 m in depth) in the Pacific Ocean.
Figure 2: Colour-coded depth profiles of ΣREY contents in cores.
Figure 3: Detailed depth profiles of ΣREY contents in representative cores.


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This research used drill core samples provided by the Deep Sea Drilling Project/Ocean Drilling Program (DSDP/ODP) and piston core samples collected by K. Kobayashi of the University of Tokyo. Financial support is from JSPS through Grants-in-Aid 22226015 and the Toray Science Foundation. We thank K. Suzuki, T. Hirata, R. Senda, T. Ishii, K. Yagi, H. Yamazaki, H. Oga, M. Kawaguchi, S. Machida, S. Haraguchi, Y. Itabashi and C. Kabashima for assistance with chemical analyses. We are grateful for thorough and constructive reviews by J.F. Slack and V. Dekov, and for lasting encouragement by the late K. Tamaki.

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Y.K., K.F., K.N. and H.I. designed the study. K.F., Y.T., K.K., J.O., R.T. and T.N. carried out chemical analyses. Y.K., K.N. and H.I. primarily wrote the manuscript with input from all other co-authors.

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Correspondence to Yasuhiro Kato.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Kato, Y., Fujinaga, K., Nakamura, K. et al. Deep-sea mud in the Pacific Ocean as a potential resource for rare-earth elements. Nature Geosci 4, 535–539 (2011).

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