Deep Sea Mining

"Recycling is a solution for the future...we have to inject a large supply into the system [today]." -- Gerard Barron, DeepGreen Metals Inc. CEO

The need for an increase in our mineral supply is no joke and it's staring us in the face. Whether it's the IEA saying lithium demand will increase 40 fold by 2040 or the World Bank estimating a 500% increase in need for cobalt and graphite, the story is the same. We need more minerals and we need to get creative (and ethical) about how we source them.

Enter: Deep sea mining. The idea is not new. A publication from the 1960s by J. L. Mero referenced the idea that metals were likely prolific on the seabed. Recent exploration has found these metals in little clumps on the seafloor called polymetallic nodules, about the size of a potato. It is easy to see how more recent pushes to increase our mineral stock has forced new types of exploration such as these nodules. EVs need reliable, high capacity batteries. Electric grids, especially those powered by renewables, need efficient storage. And all of our electronic devices need components to function. (Did somebody mention a global chip shortage?)

DeepGreen Metals is one of a few companies who have taken this mission to heart. They have started exploring the sea floor and testing new methods for extracting metals and testing potential impacts on local flora and fauna. Oh, right, there are environmental concerns.

Greenpeace, as they do, has already taken to opposing the effort. They took a boat (built by minerals, powered by fossil fuels) out to a location where another company, Global Sea Mineral Resources (GSR) who are testing similar mining efforts off the coast of San Diego. So while the ecoextremism rally of don't-mine-on-land-but-also-don't-mine-at-sea-but-also-make-all-energy-renewable makes little to no sense, there are serious concerns of how this may impact deep sea ecosystems.

The answer: we don't know.

Deep Sea Sponge Discovery Video

Video courtesy of NOAA Office of Exploration and Research/Hohonu Moana 2015, taken from Flikr.

While current exploration is looking at how this kind of resource extraction will impact the biodiversity of the ocean floor, the fact is, we really just don't know. The ocean is vast. And there are many places that we just haven't been to yet. Comments made about forcing species into extinction are likely valid. However, as Barron puts it in the episode above, do we want to be developing resources where the biodiversity is measured in grams per square meter or in kilograms per square meter [sea floor vs. terrestrial, respectively].

Additionally, there is the opposite argument to be made that harvesting these minerals and making the tech support readily available will help achieve global climate goals. Or at least thats how the island nations of Kiribati, Nauru, and Tonga-- who are seeing the immediate impacts of climate change-- are approaching the topic as they allow companies to obtain exploration contracts. [More information about the Information Seabed Authority and The Mining Code.]