In 2020, 66% of global germanium production and 97% of global germanium supplies came from China, pointing to the need to diversify supply chain sources for these critical raw materials. Growing demand for new sources of these metals essential in the manufacture of semiconductors, fiber optic cables and photovoltaics spurred researchers from Jacobs University Bremen and Kiel University, Germany, to explore deep sea mining as a supply solution.

A new analytical technique based on laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry was deployed to quantify gallium and germanium resources contained in iron-manganese crusts sampled from the Pacific Ocean. The contents of these elements were determined to be too low to justify considering the marine crusts a raw material resource in the near term.

A deep-sea ferromanganese crust, a potential unconventional resource of critical high-technology metals. Source: Jacobs UniversityA deep-sea ferromanganese crust, a potential unconventional resource of critical high-technology metals. Source: Jacobs University

However, the study demonstrated how effectively gallium and germanium are attached to iron oxides and that they can thus be effectively removed from the water and from the environment. As all critical metals are released into the environment and enter rivers, lakes and groundwater in ever-increasing quantities due to their dramatically increasing industrial use, processes to prevent this or to clean up the water are crucial. The use of iron oxides may be a rather simple and inexpensive solution for germanium and gallium.

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