The minerals to meet global demand for electric vehicle batteries could be at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Transitioning transportation from fossil fuel combustion engines to electric vehicles is necessary to reduce carbon dioxide pollution causing climate change. Deep sea mining of polymetallic nodules in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone that stretches from Hawaii to Mexico presents an alternative to energy-intensive and environmentally destructive land mining. However, environmentalists worry that deep sea mining could disrupt poorly understood oceanic ecosystems or worsen the climate crisis.
Batteries On The Ocean Floor
The CEO of the Metals Company, a sea mining enterprise out of Australia, called polymetallic nodules a “battery in a rock.” The nodules provide neat packages of nickel, cobalt, manganese, and other rare Earth metals. Marine scientists say that trillions of the black nuggets exist in deep Pacific waters. The Metals Company CEO claimed that they held enough minerals to build batteries for 4.8 billion electric vehicles.
Land Mining Versus Sea Mining
The minerals needed to convert the global vehicle fleet to electricity can be accessed on land. However, ore extracted on land is declining in quality after decades of mining. Ever increasing amounts of energy are needed to extract and refine the ore. Despite the challenges of deep sea mining, collection of polymetallic nodules reduces refining costs due to their high quality.
Effects On Ocean Ecosystem Unknown
Sea beds are home to microorganisms that absorb carbon dioxide as well as other tiny creatures that support the entire ecosystem. Oceans also absorb CO2 pollution. Disruption to the sea bed could interfere with CO2 absorption and even release CO2 that was previously captured. Many environmentalists argue that recycling of minerals already present in old products should be the priority before sea mining. However, recycling alone cannot meet the demand for batteries needed to electrify transportation.
Do you think that the mining industry will go to sea in the quest for rare Earth minerals?