Companies team up to search the deep seas for coveted battery materials

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Clean energy vehicles, such as electric vehicles (EV), are not really 100% “clean.”

That is mostly because of the environmental toll of mining.

Such mining generates incredible amounts of waste. Furthermore, it leads to damage of nearby flora and fauna.

By 2040, mineral demand for clean energy technologies will likely quadruple. That’s a cause for worry for environmentalists because of the likely impact on the ecosystem.

But now, two companies, the Vancouver-based The Metals Company and the Danish company Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) have got together to mine the deep seas for these resources, a lesser destructive alternative to surface mining.

Together, these companies recently unveiled designs for seafloor mineral collector robots and carbon-neutral vessels.

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Deep sea mining

The Metals Company is a seafloor polymetallic nodules exploration firm. With BIG, it aims to design a next-gen processing plants to supply battery metals.

The Canadian developer of lower-impact battery metals from seafloor polymetallic nodules is on a dual mission. One, it seeks to supply metals for the clean energy transition with the least possible negative environmental and social impact. Second, it wants to accelerate the transition to a circular metal economy.

The Metals Company’s challenge with BIG is to bring innovative, whole-systems design to the industrial components needed to supply the world with critical battery metals from polymetallic nodules. The latter are fist-sized rocks containing battery-grade nickel, cobalt, copper & manganese.

In a press release, The Metals Company said BIG has delivered an integrated suite of assets that work together to lift the nodules off the seafloor and up to a purpose-built production vessel. Then, they will move to a hydrodynamic shuttle carrier and onward to a metallurgical plant.

These potato-like nodules are rich in nickel, cobalt, copper and manganese. Those are key components of lithium-ion batteries for EVs and solar energy storage systems.

From the sea to processing

Meanwhile, once brought up from the seabed, these nodules will go to an onshore processing facility.

“To collect the nodules, we have designed a light-touch, robotic collector vehicle that aims a jet of seawater across the tops of the rocks to gently pry them from the sediment,” said Daniel Sundlin, partner at BIG and partner in charge of the collaboration with The Metals Company. “Part of our design for future collectors includes a buoyant, hydrodynamic shell with an extended lip to minimize seafloor compaction & reduce & redirect the dust plume kicked up during nodule collection.”

Engineering is complete for The Metals Company’s first-generation collector vehicle. The vehicle is currently being built by Allseas in the Netherlands to be deployed for testing early next year.

“The global energy system needs to undergo its most profound change in centuries to realize a world run exclusively on renewable sources,” said Bjarke Ingels, founder and creative director in BIG. “If the ongoing research & studies conclude that harvesting minerals from the seabed can be done in an environmentally & socially responsible way, we will not only be able to accelerate the green transition but give form to an entirely new industry that will create a sustainable circular metals economy for future generations.”

The electric vehicle battery market predicted to grow to about US $80 billion a year by 2026. As such, experts are keenly watching this new mining method for battery metals.

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