DeepGreen hits backs at firms opposing seafloor mining

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

Canada’s DeepGreen Metals, a seafloor mining hopeful that recently announced plans to go public, is hitting back at companies including Google and BMI for committing to not buy minerals extracted from the seafloor until the environmental risks of the activity are “comprehensively understood.”

BMW, Volvo, Google and Korean battery maker Samsung SDI became on Wednesday the first global businesses to support a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) call for a moratorium on mining the seabed.

The signatories have also said they will not finance any deep sea mining companies.

“At DeepGreen, we agree that seafloor minerals development should be approached cautiously and with an exacting commitment to science-based impact analysis and environmental protection,” it said in an open letter to the four companies.

“A precautionary approach has informed our strategy from the outset, including our mission to provide battery metals sourced from deep-ocean nodules that generate zero solid waste, no toxic tailings, and a fraction of the carbon emissions compared to land-based sources,” DeepGreen noted.

Not attached to seafloor

The Vancouver-based company said such environmental benefits can be achieved only through collecting polymetallic nodules, 4,000 meters deep on the abyssal plain. At that depth, life is up to 1,500 times less abundant than in the vibrant ecosystems on land from where battery metals are currently sourced, it said.

Nodules lie unattached on the seafloor and DeepGreen says its approach to collecting them differs from other extractive processes that could affect the integrity of the seafloor crust, as explained by the WWF.

Full lifecycle analyses, such as the one commissioned by the company, argue that nodules mining can reduce the ESG impacts of sourcing battery metals on land. “Any vote against the exploration and research into this promising solution – for that is all that is currently underway – is therefore a vote from consumer-facing brands like BMW and Volvo for the continued destruction of our biodiverse carbon sinks and the numerous other environmental and social ills that come from land-mining,” a DeepGreen spokesperson told MINING[dot]COM.

The company also addressed a report commissioned by the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy (Ocean Panel) calling for further research to fill gaps in knowledge before any seabed mining is allowed.

DeepGreen said the paper makes little distinction between the impacts of different marine resources. “While cobalt crusts and seafloor massive sulphides require destructive practices akin to mining on land, it glosses over the fact that nodules lie unattached on the seafloor and can be simply collected,” the company said.

Referring to the notion of encouraging the recycling of battery metals to reduce the need of finding new supplies, DeepGreen said it considered “irresponsible” for major companies to promote that idea that reprocessing metal waste will be sufficient for the transition to electric vehicles.

“Given the current lack of available material for recycling, we will need a massive injection of these metals to build up a sufficient stock if we are to stop extracting from the planet and enable a closed-loop economy,” the spokesman said.

The International Seabed Authority granted DeepGreen exploration rights  in the Clarion-Clipperton zone of the northeast Pacific Ocean in 2011.

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