Tag Archives: Clarion-Clipperton Zone

DeepGreen closer to ocean mining battery metals after Swiss cash injection

[A highly misleading] computer rendition of a seabed mining operation. (Image by Phil Pauley | Twitter.) In reality the mining will be done in almost complete darkness thousands of metres below the surface!

Cecilia Jamasmie | Mining News | June 10, 2019

Canada’s DeepGreen Metals, a start-up planning to extract cobalt and other battery metals from small rocks covering the seafloor, has secured the bulk of the $150 million it needs to carry out its first feasibility studies.

The financing, provided by Switzerland-based offshore pipeline company Allseas Group, is a welcome sign of progress for the deep sea mining sector, which has been stalled due regulatory uncertainty and environmental concerns.

Unlike other seafloor mining companies, including pioneer Nautilus Minerals, the Vancouver-based explorer doesn’t want to drill, blast or dig the bottom of the ocean. DeepGreen’s main goal is to scoop up small metallic rocks located thousands of metres below the surface in the North Pacific Ocean.

Its exploration focus is the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ), a mineral-rich, 4,000-kilometre swath of the Pacific that stretches from Hawaii to Mexico, where billions of potato-sized metals-rich rocks lie in a shallow layer of mud on the seafloor.

The deep sea, more than half the world’s surface, contains more cobalt, nickel, copper, manganese and rare earth metals than all land reserves combined, according to the US Geological Survey.

Companies exploring or already developing projects to mine the seafloor argue the extraction of those deep-buried riches could help diversify the sources currently supplying metals needed for electronics and evolving green technologies, such as electric vehicles (EVs) and solar panels.

Academics and scientist, however, are concerned by the lack of research on the possible impacts of high seas mining. They fear the activity could devastate fragile ecosystems that are slow to recover in the highly pressurized darkness of the deep sea, as well as having knock-on effects on the wider ocean environment.

Not enough studies

Last year, the European Parliament called for a ban on seabed mining until the environmental impacts and risks of disturbing unique deep-sea ecosystems are understood. In the resolution, it also urged the European Commission to persuade member states to stop sponsoring and subsidizing licenses to explore and exploit the seabed in international waters as well as within their own territories.

Shortly after, an international team of researchers published a set of criteria to help the International Seabed Authority (ISA), a UN body made up of 168 countries, protect biodiversity from deep-sea mining activities.

So far, it has granted 29 licences to governments and companies, authorizing them to explore in international waters.

Nautilus, however, is the only company that has gone beyond the exploration stage and has gotten close to open the first polymetallic seabed mine off the coast of Papua New Guinea. Its Solwara 1 project, however, has been slowed by funding issues and local opposition.

Anglo American (LON:AAL) sold its 4% stake in Nautilus a year ago, as part of efforts to retain only its most profitable assets. And, in March, it had to delist from the Toronto Stock Exchange.

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Deep sea mining start-up secures bulk of $150m funding round

Cut cobalt cathodes. More than 60% of the world’s cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo © Bloomberg

DeepGreen’s financing follows years of regulatory uncertainty and environmental concerns

Henry Sanderson | Financial Times | 9 June 2019

DeepGreen, a start-up that wants to suck cobalt and other battery metals from the bottom of the ocean, has secured the backing of offshore pipeline company Allseas as part of a $150m funding round.

The financing is a rare sign of progress for deep sea mining after years of regulatory uncertainty and environmental concerns.

Switzerland-based Allseas will provide the bulk of the $150m and contribute engineering expertise, DeepGreen said. The money will enable the company to carry out feasibility studies on how it can suck small metallic rocks containing cobalt, nickel and manganese from the seabed, thousands of metres below the surface.

“Our partnership with Allseas will ultimately help us open up a new, disruptive source of battery metals for the green revolution and transform the mining industry as we know it,” Gerard Barron, the chief executive of DeepGreen, said.

Supporters of deep sea mining say it offers an alternative to land-based mining and can help the world meet an expected surge in demand for metals from batteries over the next decade. More than 60 per cent of the world’s cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, while nickel is mined in Indonesia, Russia and New Caledonia.

DeepGreen says the carbon dioxide produced from lifting nodules from the sea floor is lower than land-based mining since the process requires no blasting, drilling or digging.

But critics say mining the deep sea risks destroying sensitive and unexplored habitats at the bottom of the ocean. Environmental group Greenpeace has called for an international agreement to protect the oceans from mining.

“Scientists warn that deep sea mining risks inflicting severe and potentially irreversible harm to ocean ecosystems that we know so little about,” Greenpeace said. “Profit is being placed before protection and we urgently need a strong ‘Global Oceans Treaty’ that safeguards the deep ocean from reckless exploitation by companies such as DeepGreen.”

The first company to attempt to mine the deep sea, Nautilus Minerals, was delisted from the Toronto Stock Exchange in March after financial difficulties. The company had planned to mine the deep sea in waters surrounding Papua New Guinea.

The International Seabed Authority, a UN body that grants licences to mine in international waters, is expected to complete its first set of regulations to enable deep sea mining to go ahead by 2020, according to UK Seabed Resources, a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin.

“Uncertainty in the future regulatory regime for mineral exploitation remains the principal barrier to development of an environmentally responsible and commercially viable deep seabed mining industry,” Christopher Williams, head of UK Seabed Resources, said.

DeepGreen is looking to extract metals in a 75,000 sq km zone in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone in the Pacific, granted to the island state of Nauru.

Allseas is a private company known for having built the world’s largest construction vessel, the Pioneering Spirit, which can install and remove offshore oil rigs in a single lift.

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Launch of Another Seabed Mining Experiment Is Put on Hold for Several Months

The Global Sea Mineral Resources robot, Patania II

Patricia Tummons | Environment Hawai’i | 1 May 2019

The Belgian company Global Sea Mineral Resources (GSR) had planned to start small-scale testing last month of a bus-sized tracked robot – 40 feet long, 13 feet wide, and 15 feet high – designed to vacuum up poly-metallic nodules from the seafloor of the Clarion-Clipperton Zone. That is an area of the Pacific that stretches from east of Hawai‘i to west of Mexico and which has been eyed for years as a new source of metals to feed the world’s growing demand.

But the launch of the machine, dubbed the Patania II, has been delayed until sometime later this year, GSR has said, after a vital cable connecting the robot to a surface support vessel was damaged. According to the website of GSR’s parent company, DEME Group, the damage occurred “during functionality testing” ahead of the proposed launch.

“The cable, known as an umbilical, is 5 kilometers in length and contains specialized wiring to power, control, and communicate with Patania II … as well as to hold Patania II’s 25-ton weight. … [R]egrettably, GSR has concluded that it will need to postpone the launch of Patania II for a few months.”

Accompanying the deployment of the Patania II will be a team of independent scientists from institutions in 10 European countries and Jamaica. From a separate ship, they will monitor the impacts of the mining effort, with the results of their work being used by GSR to develop an environmental impact statement in anticipation of large-scale mining.

One of the inevitable consequences of seafloor mining is the release of giant clouds of sediment in waters that, as University of Hawai‘i benthic ecologist Craig Smith has said, “are the most particle-free bottom waters in the world’s ocean.”

As a result, “the biota and ecosystem processes are likely to be extremely sensitive to increased suspended sediment concentrations,” Smith stated in an email to Environment Hawai‘i . The effect on marine life will be locally devastating, with the feeding and respiratory structures of animals living in the sediment buried by the sediment stirred up by the mining processes, while animals that live on or depend on the nodules themselves will be destroyed.

One of the scientists involved in the team that will be monitoring the test of the Patania II is Andrea Koschinsky, a geochemist at Jacobs University in Bremen. In an article that appeared in the March 15 edition of Science, Koschinsky minimizes the risk it poses to the seafloor ecosystem. “Most of the silt particles” that will be stirred up by the mining operation, she told Science, “will clump together and fall out within a kilometer or two.”

“That’s a bit misleading,” Smith says. “Whereas some plume models suggest that most of the sediments will drop out within a kilometer or two of the mining, the bottom waters in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone are so clear that if even a very small percentage of the re-suspended sediment stays in the water column, it is likely to have major impacts.

“The most recent models of plume dispersal from 10 days of simulated mining indicate that suspended sediment concentrations and sediment accumulation rates will be four orders of magnitude – 10,000 times – greater than background levels as far as 10 kilometers from the site of the mining.”

In 2015, a team of scientists from Scotland and Germany looked at the natural currents that exist at the seafloor in the CCZ area proposed for mining. At times, the currents can be increased, but there is little disturbance of the sediment. However, should the sediment be disturbed by mining, the currents would be able to disperse the suspended particles over a wide area.

Or, as the authors state, “During eddy-induced elevated flow periods mining-related plumes, potentially supplemented by natural sediment resuspension, are expected to spread and disperse more widely and rapidly,” they concluded. (See Dmitry Aleynik et al., “Impact of remotely generated eddies on plume dispersion at abyssal mining sites in the Pacific,” published online in Nature/Scientific Reports, December 5, 2017.)

“The natural level of background sedimentation in the Central Pacific, accumulated during one thousand years (1-6 mm) is reached within just 10 days” under one of the mining scenarios modeled by Aleynik’s team. “The re-deposition of plume [particles] at this scale is expected to have a huge impact on the generally non-resilient deep ocean ecosystems, which could be prone to irreversible changes under such enormous pressure.”

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