Decades’ Worth Of EV Battery Metals Found Off Remote Japan Island

Japan has recently made a significant discovery of vast mineral deposits near the remote island of Minami-Torishima.

According to researchers, the seabed contains mineral resources sufficient to meet Japan’s cobalt consumption needs for the next 75 years and over a decade’s supply of nickel. The deposits, estimated at around 230 million tonnes of manganese in fist-sized nodules, also contain about 20% manganese and up to 1% cobalt and nickel, as reported by NIKKEI Asia.

These elements, manganese, cobalt, and nickel, are crucial for producing lithium-ion batteries, the cornerstone of electric vehicles. Researchers estimate that the deposits cover an area of about 10,000 square meters and contain approximately 610,000 tonnes of cobalt and 740,000 tonnes of nickel.

The mineral discovery site around Minami-Torishima has been under observation since 2016. However, detailed surveys commenced in April last year and continued until early June 2024, revealing the area’s enormous potential. Researchers employed advanced mining equipment and remotely controlled underwater vehicles to conduct thorough probes at multiple locations on the seabed, ranging from 5,200 to 5,700 meters deep. These nodules form through the precipitation of iron and manganese oxides dissolved in seawater around their nuclei, and they also contain copper, another valuable element.

This discovery is expected to significantly boost Japan’s EV industry by reducing its dependence on foreign sources for these critical minerals. It positions Japan to meet internal demand for EV batteries better and compete more robustly with China in the global market. The research team, comprising members from the non-profit Nippon Foundation and the University of Tokyo, plans to “start extracting 2,500 tonnes of the mineral resource per day in an experimental project by the end of March 2026.”

The Nippon Foundation aims to form a consortium to commercialize production by 2026. According to the research team, the mineral deposits are ample enough to justify commercial extraction and refining costs. Yasuhiro Kato, a professor at the University of Tokyo who was part of the 2016 discovery team, noted that the nodules are “concentrated and offer quite good materials.”

Kato also emphasized the potential of these resources to “create new industries and establish the next-generation energy infrastructure by utilizing domestic seafloor mineral resources” in Japan. He envisions collaboration with other companies to develop eco-friendly products and technologies using these newfound deposits. This remote site is approximately 1,180 miles (1,900 kilometers) from Tokyo.

Ultimately, the researchers aim for their findings to support Japan’s growth by establishing a domestic supply chain from resource mining to manufacturing. They aspire to make Japan a nation embodying science, technology, and ocean-oriented development.

“We expect that our research outcomes will help boost Japan’s growth by establishing a domestic supply chain stretching from ‘resource-mining’ to ‘manufacturing,’” the University of Tokyo stated.

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