The world has been informed that huge deposits of rare and valuable metals have been discovered in Japan . It is true that they are located at a depth of 6,000. meters, but nobody cares about it too much. Demand for these metals is growing at a record pace, so we can not worry about such details.
If it were, for example, about lignite, the situation would look completely different. No ordinary person would think that extracting this raw material from this depth makes any sense. There is not enough. In the case of yttrium, europium, terbium and dysprosium, these calculations look quite different.
Rare earth metals - new gold
The elements listed above occur in very few places (of which we know) on our planet. Several hundred years ago, nobody cared much for this state of affairs, but since we've come to love all kinds of electronic gadgets, we suddenly need these rare elements very much. They are used in the broadly understood electronics and - increasingly - in the construction of electric cars .
Experts say directly that the constant supply of rare metals is a key element of the further development of technology. According to global forecasts prepared by OECD, global demand for so-called independent metals will grow faster than the demand for any other raw material. The current demand for rare earth metals is about 7-8 gigatons per year - in 2060 this value is to be as much as 19 gigatonnes.
You do not need to exchange these exotic elements at once. Copper is also an independent metal, which we also need more and more. For example, for the production of electric cars and related infrastructure (cables, chargers, etc). According to studies commissioned by the International Copper Association, by 2027, we will use over 100,000 to build only electric vehicle charging points. tons of copper. When it comes to the construction of cars themselves, about 60 kg of copper is used to make a single electrician . For comparison: in cars powered by combustion engines we find (averaging, of course) about 20 kg of this element.
Similar problems also apply to aluminum, nickel, cobalt ... the list is quite long. If you would like to get to know her in full, I can recommend a very comprehensive study of this topic prepared by Andrzej Paulo and Mariusz Krzak. And let's get back to the issue of extracting all these raw materials. The discovery of rare metal deposits in Japan is, of course, excellent news for the economy. If the Japanese manages to develop an effective method of extracting them from the depth of 6,000 m, it will change the balance of power in the world.
Currently, China has a monopoly on the extraction of some rare raw materials, which are very keen to use this situation in negotiating trade agreements and exerting pressure. For example, just after Google announced the end of cooperation with the Chinese giant Huawei, Xi Jinping, the President of the Middle Kingdom quite by accident went to the official visit to one of the Chinese JL Mag Rare-Earth mines in Jiangxi province. Just to remind you who really controls the smartphone market.
The demand for Rare Metals will eventually force us to look at the stars.
The concept of extracting raw materials from asteroids is not new at all. The novelty, however, is that we are beginning to approach this idea more and more seriously. The most well-known concepts of asteroid exploitation were those presented by two companies: Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources.
The Planetary Resources concept assumed the following action plan. First, a low-boron telescope around the Earth (we have such equipment, it's called Arkyd-100), would collect spectroscopic information about the composition of the asteroid. This would be to determine its market value. Then the cloud of "cheap unmanned robot vehicles" would do all the mining work on the asteroid. The extracted asteroid fragments would then be towed into the immediate vicinity of the Earth.
The Deep Space Industries plan looks a bit different. Assumes the use of three types of vehicles: tiny Firefly drones, which would be sent to selected asteroids for reconnaissance, larger Dragonfly drones that would take samples and return with them to Earth, and huge Harvestor vehicles that would tow selected asteroids near Earth for further use operation.
Of these two companies hoping for cosmic mining, Planetary Resources has already taken the first step - sending its first vehicle from the International Space Station. For now, only for testing purposes
According to Planetary Resources, in the next ten years we will begin to process water on asteroids for fuel (water, as is known, consists of hydrogen and oxygen) and start mining valuable metals. Fuel is necessary to ensure the energy independence of unmanned vehicles and mining robots. The most precious metals we can find on asteroids are rare earth metals.
Although, of course, the prospect of attracting the 16 Psyche asteroid, which contains elements of 700 trillion dollars, sounds quite good. Even if the asteroid owes much of this absurd value to huge deposits of gold. If a huge amount of this resource suddenly appeared on our planet, its prices would probably go down, destabilizing the economy.
And the question: who exactly belong to all these precious asteroids that are theoretically within our reach?
Despite the many steps taken by various American companies, the legal status of raw materials mined in space is still not clear. An act to arrange this, at least in the American legislature, is still being discussed by the United States Senate. And even if it is discussed and American politicians decide something in this matter - why their arrangements should be honored, for example, by such China, which have their own ambitions associated with the conquest of the cosmos?
One thing is for sure. Countries (and corporations) that in the next few decades will be able to secure access to resources located in outer space, will grow into (or maintain this status) the largest powers. The period in which we could only and only theorize about the exploitation of asteroids ends slowly. Since the news about the discovery of a few rare metals, located 6 km (sic!) Under the Earth, is so exciting, it means that it soon turns out that exploitation of extraterrestrial deposits is simply cheaper. And more effective.
The demand for rare earth metals is growing. Soon we will have to look for them outside our planet