Demands for rare earth metals and instability in current producer states are driving deep seabed exploration
[ Page 170-171 ]
The world economy, still suffering from the financial crisis, is currently experiencing increasing commodity prices. Industrial associations and governments are monitoring patterns of supply and demand, not only for standard minerals like iron, but also for high-value metals (e.g., nickel, copper, titanium, gold) and rare earth elements (REE) like yttrium, indium, gallium, neodymium, and germanium (Kato et al. 2011) which are important for semi-conductors, photovoltaics, lasers, liquid crystal displays, fiber- optic cables, and other high-tech products used in both civilian and military applica- tions. The demand for raw materials is expected to double in the next 25 years. The EU has identified a list of 14 out of 41 critical raw materials2 which are irreplaceable in key industries. The supply risk is due to the fact that a high share of production comes from China,3 Russia, South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Brazil. This production concentration cannot easily be substituted for or augmented by other sources. The political–economic stability of some of the producing states is questionable and, in the case of Congo, nearing collapse. The list of failing states will grow where humanitarian and environmental risks may get completely out of control. The risks for the supply chains are self-evident: old and newly industrialized states are competing over prices and access rights to the remaining raw materials, while the low-hanging fruits have been picked. As a consequence, interest in marine mineral resources is growing again. With only 29% of the world's surface being land and 71% being sea, there is every reason to believe that terrestrial minerals occur in deposits on and in the seabed, as well. The Pacific Ocean alone is larger than all land masses on earth.