The seabed is loaded with trillions of polymetallic nodules, an amalgamation of cobalt, nickel, manganese and other rare earth metals that could help with the climate crisis. (Image credit: The Metals Company)
Three miles below the Pacific Ocean lies trillions of tiny black nuggets that could provide a solution to the climate crisis and bolster green energy but could dramatically impact the environment. Those nuggets are polymetallic nodules composed of cobalt, nickel, manganese and other rare earth metals formed via a biochemical process where shark teeth and fish bones become encased by minerals. The natural process is done throughout millions of years and eventually settles on the ocean floor.
Australia-based The Metals Company state those nuggets are essentially “a battery in a rock” and an easy way to help solve climate change. The company recently announced that it derived an alloy of high-grade battery metals from its initial smelting campaign, which relies on rotary kiln technology to produce the metals. The process is derived from conventional nickel flowsheets that separate the base metals encased in the nodules into two concentrated streams. The first produces an alloy comprised of critical metals crucial for EV batteries and wiring, including nickel, cobalt, and copper. The other stream is composed of manganese silicate that can be further processed to manganese alloy, a critical component in steel production.
The Metals Company states there are enough polymetallic nodules to produce 4.8-billion electric vehicles, or instead the batteries that power them. They could also be used to produce energy-dense batteries for grid energy storage, allowing green energy a long-term storage solution. Mining those nuggets would be as simple as vacuuming golf balls off of a putting green.
Some biologists feel harvesting those polymetallic nodules could have an environmental impact that is yet unknown and may produce a cascading effect that worsens the current trajectory of climate change. The extraction process is minimally invasive to the environmental area they are being harvested from, but the world’s oceans are contiguous with currents navigating the globe. So, while there may be minimal impact at one site, another could have catastrophic damage if the polymetallic nodule variable is removed. It’s still too early to tell what those consequences, if any, might be without further study, but if there is negligible impact, we may see a solution that combats climate change in the near future.
Have a story tip? Message me at: http://twitter.com/Cabe_Atwell