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Japan unearths rare metals essential for lithium-ion batteries off Pacific island

The Yomiuri Shimbun A government agency dealing with natural resources has announced the successful excavation of rare metals including cobalt and nickel from the seabed of Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

Domestic rare metal production has been a pressing issue for Japan as the nation is highly dependent on China for such metals that are essential to lithium-ion battery production.

The seabed mining site is located about 900 meters below sea level, off the southern coast of the Pacific island of Minami-Torishima.

The Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC), commissioned by the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, excavated in July about 650 kilograms of cobalt-rich crust, a mineral deposit containing the rare metal.

JOGMEC reported that through its excavation research, it discovered the area containing enough cobalt to meet Japan’s demand for about 88 years and enough nickel for about 12 years.

Cobalt and nickel are essential materials for lithium-ion batteries, which are used in electric cars and other vehicles.

Japan has relied on imports of such highly scarce metals for almost the entirety of its domestic consumption.

With the advent of the ultra-fast 5G communication standard, the use of these materials in communications equipment is also rapidly increasing, and their trading prices are rising worldwide.

Domestic rare metal production will also help to strengthen the competitiveness of Japan’s domestic industry.

The ministry has plans to inspect the drilling technology with an aim toward mass production, saying the excavation’s success is a big step toward the domestic production of rare metals.

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