Deep sea mining equipment

No respite for deepwater: miners seek battery materials undersea


Sopuruchi Onwuka

Hopes that energy transition from fossil fuels would restore marine serenity and preserve aquatic ecosystems are beginning to fade with the realization that the scarce metals crucial to production of high efficiency green energy storage may have to be sourced from ocean floors.

Oracle Intelligence reports that investors taking early advantage in the energy revolution sparked off by global commitments to the Paris Agreement on emission control now concentrate on exploring for new group of metals critical to production of batteries.

ocean floor mineral

Batteries and other forms of energy storage technologies are taking large space in the new energy industry as the automobile and light manufacturing industries relay on mobile and stationary storage when disconnected from grid sources.

A number of automobile and ancillary industry players now collaborate with solid mineral miners to main a steady supply of cobalt, lithium and other metals necessary for energy storage. Leading electric vehicle manufacturer, Tesla, has gone ahead to invest in both mining and battery production to guarantee supplies to its production lines.

With conventional mining rights running out amid escalating demand, technology providers are out with numerous solutions to expand the frontiers of resource exploration.

According to a report by Reuters, Belgium’s Global Sea Mineral Resources is leading tests that could lead to the mining of battery minerals from the Pacific Ocean floor.

The robotic exploration borrows from deepwater petroleum industry operations which rely on remote operated vehicles (ROVs) for protracted underwater operations and maintenance activities.

The GSMR had deployed intelligent machines to search for battery metals on ocean beds in an exploration archetype, but one of the robots registered distressed necessitating its recovery.

The report has it that the company has reentered its underwater mining fields after it managed to recover the robot from a depth of thousands of meters.

The company, according to the report, has been testing the 25-tonne mining robot prototype, Patania II, at some 4.0 kilometers (km) below the surface in its concession in the Clarion Clipperton Zone since April 20.

The machine, named after the world’s fastest caterpillar, became detached on Sunday from the 5km cable connecting it to GSR’s ship, but a recovery operation reconnected it and brought it back to surface late on Thursday.

“We conduct these trials to better understand the challenges involved so we can continuously refine our technology,” Kris Van Nijen, managing director of GSR, said.

Before the incident, the robot had collected rocks rich in manganese, cobalt, and nickel from the seabed.

These potato-sized rocks called “polymetallic nodules” are sought by GSR and other companies with seabed exploration contracts that say they could help meet the world’s increasing demand for battery metals.

Independent scientists in a nearby ship are analysing data to establish the trial’s environmental impact.

Deep-sea mining regulations have not been finalized by the International Seabed Authority, a U.N. body.

Some environmentalists and companies are calling for a moratorium, saying too little is known about the environmental impact of disturbing the ocean floor, while industry analysts have questioned the economics of technically challenging deep sea mining.

GSR says it will only apply for a mining contract if the science shows that the seabed can be a responsible source of the metals needed for the clean energy transition.

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