Battery-metal rush pits miners against marine biologists

Bloomberg News | April 25, 2021 | 9:27 am Battery MetalsAfricaCanadaUSACobaltManganeseNickel

Battery-metal rush pits miners against marine biologists

DeepGreen is one of the companies that intends to produce metals from polymetalic rocks, found in deep oceans. (Image courtesy of DeepGreen Metals).

Controversial plans to mine the ocean floor face a key test this year when a United Nations body unveils rules that could spur the exploitation of hundreds of billions of dollars of battery metals.

The International Seabed Authority is preparing to pass regulations in July that could trigger a rush to extract metals needed to power the electric-vehicle revolution. Environmentalists say that would endanger fragile marine ecosystems and fear the ISA is too closely aligned with the emergent mining industry. The conflict exposes the complex trade-offs nations face to survive on a warming planet.

“It is a grand challenge of our time to reconcile humanity’s opposing interests in acquiring ocean resources — food, minerals and energy — with protecting these habitats,” said Will Homoky, a biochemist at the U.K.’s University of Leeds, who’s helped collect the environmental data being analyzed by miners and regulators.

A half-century after the Central Intelligence Agency first piqued interest in undersea mining while covertly salvaging a Soviet nuclear submarine with the help of Howard Hughes, the industry is back in the spotlight. The need to supply emissions-free vehicles has put the focus three kilometers (1.9 miles) down in the Pacific Ocean, where cobalt and nickel reserves dwarf those found in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Indonesia, the biggest terrestrial producers of the two metals.

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