SYDNEY: The quest for rare earths vital to some of modern life’s most indispensable technologies may see mining robots jet to the stars within decades, a world-first conference in Australia was told today.
Yttrium, Lanthanum and the other 15 minerals which make up the group of elements known as rare earths are crucial to everything from wind turbines and hybrid cars to cruise missiles and the ubiquitous smartphone.
As technology advances so too does demand for the elements which, although relatively abundant, require laborious and waste-intensive processing to be freed from surrounding rock.
They are a precious commodity — so precious scientists are now looking beyond Earth’s reaches for new supplies, with moon and asteroid mining becoming a lucrative prospect, according to researchers and tech firms gathered in Sydney for the world’s first formal ‘Off-Earth Mining Forum’.
A cross-section of the space and mining industry’s top minds have gathered to swap ideas about the latest advances in space and mining technology, from Rio Tinto and Sandvik to NASA and Japan’s space agency JAXA.