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Race by sending robots to mine minerals from the ocean floor
Material posted: Publication date: 11-07-2018
When: early Monday morning, 300-foot Maersk Launcher docked in San Diego, he unloaded the catch, consisting of a solid black lumps, collected from the bottom of the ocean. These clumps – not the stones and naturally formed metal nodulesthat someday I will be able to give us cobalt, manganese and Nickel – not to mention the rare earth metals.

Global queries of the metals grow along with the growth in the number of batteries for electric vehicles and wind turbines, next generation technologies and weapons systems. The bottom of the ocean – the main purpose of these field development. Of course, to raise these nodules the size of potatoes from the bottom of somewhere in a remote part of the Pacific ocean, and then transport them to the processing factory, the mining of metal – a task very difficult.

What is mined on the ocean floor: the bottom of the polymetallic nodules extracted at the site, which the company NORI license

But the leaders of the canadian mining company DeepGreen Metals and its divisions NORI (Nauru Ocean Resources Inc.), think figured out how to pick up the nodules, without destroying the habitat of deep-water inhabitants – and at the same time to profit from it.

"Nature has created these resources that are rich in metals necessary for our future", — said the Director of Deep Green Gerard Barron, a former entrepreneur, technology specialist advertising from Australia, who invested $8 million of its own money into the venture in underwater mining. "This is the new oil. Our nodules contain everything you need to create batteries for electric vehicles."

A team of more than 70 technicians, researchers and scientists has just completed a seven-week journey aboard the Maersk Launcher in the area of Clarion-Clipperton, a tasty morsel of the bottom of the Pacific ocean with an area of 4.4 million sq km between Hawaii and Mexico, full of the world's reserves of these nodules.

The use of the device for collecting polymetallic modules from the seabed

Researchers on Board the ship were dropped Chernogoriya device having the form of boxes, at a depth of 3600 m, to score a test nodules, and also to raise deposits and dirt from the bottom. Mobile Autonomous underwater vehicles filmed this entire operation on video, provided the orientation and collected data on water quality. This mission was the first of several required to determine the impact of mining operations on the environment, which DeepGreen have to spend to get the final authorization from the International seabed authority. The controls on exploration and extraction of minerals in the zone of Clipperton and distributed the rights for development in various countries, including and partner DeepGreen, the island nation of Nauru.

DeepGreen says he wants to behave appropriately with the inhabitants of the seabed. She recently hired Greg stone, former chief scientist of the International society of nature conservation, to help plan the extraction of minerals with the least impact on the seabed and its inhabitants. "For the first time in advance before starting the production going and planned the entire operation," says stone. He notes that DeepGreen also relies on data from previous attempts to collect these mineral-rich sediments. This includes the infamous ship "Glomar Explorer", the project caught the secret attempt of the CIA to get to the bottom of a sunken Soviet submarine.

"We rely on decades of development of laws and years of research to correctly describe the seabed and build a deep-water model to understand the flow, living there animals and developments," says stone.

DeepGreen says that developing a harvesting machine on caterpillar tracks, which hopes to try out in the next year or two. The idea is to send Autonomous apparatus on the seabed at a distance of just several centimeters. Assembly Assembly will be connected with the pump hose which will suck nodules to the surface to the ship. Stone says that a closed system will return the cold ocean water to the bottom, instead of dumping it on a warm surface, to minimize the impact on the environment.

They also want to ensure that it does not violate the structure of DNA. This can be done by collecting fossil in a checkerboard pattern. The idea is to leave the Assembly area, in which you can hide or move the inhabitants of the seabed. "We will use the most successful methods and principles to catalog all the creatures living there to see if our path some unique features, stone said. – If we find a plot with a unique view of living on a few hundred square kilometers or meters, we miss it. If we find that the bottom is about the same, we make sure that the work will be patching a manner that does not destroy the whole territory completely."

Despite all precautions, some oceanographers believe that it is very difficult to leave the bottom intact. Andrea Kosinski-Fritsche from Jacobs University in Bremen is studying the possible impact of mining on different deep-sea habitats. It compares mining with a fishing trawl, which is dragged across the bottom. "Impact on sediment is comparable, but the recovery will be slower than trawlers, says Kosinski-Fritsche. – On the continental shelf of the food much more than in the deep-sea ecosystem". She said that scientists still much unknown about the diversity and populations of worms, clams, fish and other denizens of the dark world of the seabed.

Of course, such uncertainties do not stop these mining companies like DeepGreen or the London Seabed Resources, a division of Lockheed-Martin, if you expect various trials and pilot projects before starting full-scale operations in the coming years. In April Japanese researchers have announced about the discovery of huge reserves of similar black concretions containing rare earth metals, which should be enough for many hundreds of years, only 1900 km in the South-East of Tokyo. Apparently, the slow race for undersea riches just got a good boost of speed.


Tags: Sea policy

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