Home Tech These Mining Companies Are Ready to Raid the Seabed

These Mining Companies Are Ready to Raid the Seabed

by Elijah
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The robot about to be unleashed on the Norwegian seabed looks like a giant tripod, kicking up sand as it drills to collect samples from one of the last untouched places on Earth.

This creepy thing is owned by Loke Marine Minerals, which is expected to be one of the first companies to embark on an exploration process that will lay the foundation for deep sea mining in the Arctic. In a world first: the Norwegian parliament voted Tuesday to allow a new generation of mining companies to scour a large swath of Norwegian waters — the size of Italy — for the minerals needed to build electric cars, cellphones and solar panels.

Walter Sognenes, CEO of Loke, sees the vote not only as a license for exploration, but also as a foot in the door for the extraction of these minerals. “If you find the resources, and if you have the technology that shows that you can develop this with an acceptable (environmental) impact, then you get the green light,” he says of the process. If his company receives a permit to harvest minerals, Sognenes plans to mine the seabed manganese crustwhich, he claims, is rich in cobalt and rare earth minerals.

This is controversial new territory, with researchers saying they don’t know enough about the deep sea to predict how these companies’ activities will affect underwater ecosystems. The Norwegian government-funded Institute for Marine Research did just that recommended another five to ten years of research. “We have an idea of ​​what kind of organisms live down there,” says Steffen Leth Jørgensen, director of the deep-sea center at Norway’s University of Bergen, explaining that he is concerned about the corals and sponge soils. “We don’t know how they will react to mining.” Activists protesting outside Norway’s parliament building on Tuesday have described the prospect of deep-sea mining as a disaster that will pose a serious threat to marine life.

The three companies expected to apply for licenses to begin exploration in Norway are all startups that have launched since 2019. Although they are all backed by more established ‘marine services’ companies – Norwegian defense contractor Kongsberg Gruppen and Norwegian shipping group Wilhelmsen both have stakes in Loke – the startups have no established reputation to lose.

Tuesday to vote came at a time when many larger companies appeared to be severing ties with deep-sea mining. In May last year, Danish shipping giant Maersk announced it would sell its stake in The Metals Company (TMC), a Canadian company with ambitions to start deep-sea mining in international waters off the island of Nauru, near Australia. In March, US defense company Lockheed Martin also transferred its deep-sea mining subsidiary UK Seabed Resources (UKSR) to Loke for an undisclosed sum.

The divestments have taken place linked to growing controversy around deep-sea mining, with damage activists saying the new industry could harm marine life. BMW is a company that has already done that promised not to use raw materials from deep-sea mining in its cars. In October, Great Britain connected Canada and New Zealand are calling for a pause in deep-sea mining until the environmental impacts of this new industry can be better understood. These concerns are already making it difficult to find investments and close deals with technology partners, Sognenes claims.

But deep-sea mining is not only considered a risky business because of environmental concerns. The Norwegian startups are betting on an industry that does not yet exist. “It could end up not being an industry at all because the resources are not there or the technology is not good enough,” said Håkon Knudsen Toven, spokesperson for the industry group Offshore Norway. “I think that’s one of the main reasons why you only have a few small startups now.”

Loke may be targeting the manganese crust of the Norwegian seabed, but another Norwegian startup, Green Minerals, wants to try to extract copper from so-called massive sulphide deposits (SMS) on the seabed, according to CEO Ståle Monstad. The technology needed to transport these deposits from the seabed, about three kilometers underwater, to the surface is already being used in the oil and gas industry, Monstad claims, adding that he believes the company could begin test mining as early as 2028 could start.

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