Posted on: June 15, 2022 Posted by: Jerry D. Pfeil Comments: 0

Carmakers are facing another crisis. They must produce enough batteries to support the global shift towards electric cars.

The supply of metals such as cobalt, nickel, copper, and lithium needed for batteries is already uncertain. The soaring demand in the future for hundreds of millions of these batteries is likely to cause shortages and high prices.

Companies want to extract metallic treasures from deep-sea waters. Large areas of ocean plains reach 5,000m deep, where you will find potato-like lumps known as polymetallic nodules. These nodules are rich in rare-earth and metal elements essential for electronics and batteries. The Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ) is located between Mexico and Hawaii and contains more nickel and cobalt than land deposits.

The Metals Company, formerly DeepGreen Metals, in Vancouver, plans to become the first company commercially to produce these metals by 2024. Gerard Barron, the CEO, is certain they can achieve this without causing any harm to subsea ecosystems.

No drilling or digging is required as the nodules are located on the Seafloor. The robotic collector of the company will move along the Seafloor and shoot out seawater jets at the nodules. This will gently dissolve the nodules and suction them up. Craig Shesky, CFO, says it’s similar to picking up golf balls at a driving range.

The nodules will be taken by ship to an onshore processing facility, where they will then be melted to make nickel sulfate and cobalt sulfate. The Metals Company is looking for a processing plant in Texas because of its ports and easy access to renewables. Chesky states, “We are committed to turning those rocks into steel using renewable power and zero solid waste.”

The International Seabed Authority has awarded exploration contracts to 17 countries. The Metals Company has joined forces with three of them, Nauru, Kiribati and Tonga, from the small Pacific islands nations to explore 150,000 kilometers of the CCZ. Chesky claims these areas have enough copper, nickel, and cobalt “to electrify the entire world’s vehicles fleet multiple times.” “

Land-based mining has a history of environmental destruction, emissions and human rights violations. There are also mountains of waste and precarious global supply chains. 70% of the world’s cobalt is produced in the Democratic Republic of Congo, while most of the world’s nickel is found under the protection of Indonesian rainforests. China is responsible for processing around 80 percent of the world’s battery raw materials. This has created a block on global supply. Companies have turned to lower-grade mining resources, which produce more waste and emit emissions due to the use of many of the world’s high-quality resources.

Chesky states that there will be a nickel shortage of 40% by the end of the decade. This is even more than what we have with copper. We don’t want the same thing to happen with EVs as with the semiconductor shortage. It is up to you to decide where to find that metal. Let’s look at the desert of the sea, and deep-sea plains, which are the areas of the planet with the least amount of life. These areas have 1500 times more life per square meter than rainforests. “

Despite their low biomass, they are rich in biodiversity. Craig Smith, an oceanography professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, has led seven expeditions to the CCZ. Deep-sea plains, which are fragile and pristine ecosystems that have remained untouched by humans, are difficult to value. “Most species we find during these studies are unknown to science. It’s actually a biodiversity hotspot. “

Smith states that ocean mining could harm or even kill species we don’t know much about. The sediment plumes created by mining zones could have a devastating effect on creatures hundreds of kilometers away. The nodules are home to thousands upon thousands of microorganisms. He says that it is impossible to extract polymetallic nodules commercially from the Seafloor without causing significant ecological damage over tens of thousands of kilometers.

Chesky also points out that 70% of the living things in these areas are bacteria, compared to the diversity found within the rainforest. Recent research by mechanical engineers from MIT found that sediment plumes produced by collector vehicles and the water-sediment mix returned to the sea by ships after separating nodules may have negative impacts. The sediments quickly settle or return to their original levels. Another study found that nodules produce ten times as much carbon dioxide as land ores.

However, there is a lot of opposition to mining the deep-seafloor for resources. All the companies, including Volvo, Google, Samsung and Samsung, have stated that they won’t buy metals from these sources until the environmental impact is better understood. All the companies have signed a World Wildlife Fund moratorium.

The Metals Company will use drones, subsea sensors and radar to monitor nodule collection in real-time and beam it to regulators and stakeholders. This is to provide extra protection for deep-ocean residents. He says, “If there’s an impact on a creature that we didn’t anticipate, then we can adjust our plan.”

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