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[Discussion] Discovery of Massive Mineral Deposits Near Minami-Torishima Island Promises Boost for Japan's EV Industry

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Mineral Deposit Discovery

Discovered in the waters surrounding the secluded Minami-Torishima island in Japan, a recent survey has uncovered extensive mineral deposits that could signify a landmark advancement in battery production for electric vehicles. These resources, deep on the seabed, have been under observation since 2016, with further exploration taking place between April 2023 and June 2024.

The exhausting, in-depth exploration revealed substantial deposits of minerals like manganese, cobalt, and nickel. The deposits are approximately found in a range of around 10,000 square meters, with initial estimates being around 610,000 tonnes of cobalt and 740,000 tonnes of nickel.

The minerals are found in a type of nodule form which appeared to be gathered on the seabed about 5,200 to 5,700 meters deep. Researchers highlighted these nodules as forming when dissolved iron and manganese oxides precipitate around a nucleus. Interestingly, another valuable element, copper, was found within these deposit clusters.

Boost to Japan's EV Industry

This discovery is set to power Japan's electric vehicle (EV) industry significantly by reducing reliance on foreign resources. The minerals found namely manganese, cobalt, and nickel play a crucial role in the production of lithium-ion batteries, a core component of EVs. The availability of these minerals domestically represents a significant advantage in meeting local demand for EV batteries and potentially posing a competitive challenge to China on the global stage.

The consortium of non-profit Nippon Foundation and the University of Tokyo, responsible for the discovery, are ambitiously planning to start the extraction of 2,500 tons of these mineral resources daily as a part of a trial project to commence by end of March 2026. The Nippon Foundation is also strategizing to form a partnership for commercial production in Japan by 2026.

The team is optimistic that the mineral deposits are sufficient for commercial use, including extraction and refining costs. University of Tokyo professor, Yasuhiro Kato, a member of the discovery team, described the nodules as "concentrated and offer quite good materials."

Future Potential

Kato also emphasized the importance of "creating new industries and establishing the next-generation energy infrastructure by utilizing domestic seafloor mineral resources." He mentioned a plan of collaborating with an array of companies aiming to develop environmentally friendly products and technologies using these found mineral deposits.

The goal is to usher a transformative phase in Japan's technological journey by establishing a domestic supply chain extending from mineral resource mining to manufacturing. This might allow Japan to emerge as a true powerhouse in science, technology, and ocean research, thereby providing an impressive boost to its growth trajectory. As stated in a university release, "our research outcomes will help boost Japan’s growth by establishing a domestic supply chain stretching from ‘resource-mining’ to ‘manufacturing’, and make Japan a science- technology-, and ocean-oriented nation."

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