Several treasures found at the bottom of the sea have been identified as holding the key to the energy transformation. Several countries want to exploit the virgin resource. Dozens of countries are vying for the planet’s last natural resources, and Belgium is currently leading the charge.
Patania ruralis is the world’s fastest caterpillar. Once frightened it is tucking its extremities into itself, and rolls at 40 cm per second. “Patania II” is slightly faster – in one hour it scours two kilometres of the seabed.
Scrubbing a two-kilometre area takes 30 minutes. The Belgian government runs a large remote-controlled harvester for Global Sea Mineral Resources, partnered with the Belgian government to find valuable mineral deposits in the Pacific. Global mining of those resources will be revealed in coming years. They are potato-sized lumps of polymetallic (also known as manganese-rich) material full of manganese and rare earth elements. Their metal-sucking ability dates back millions of years.
Their quantity that lies at the bottom of the Pacific is worth trillions of dollars. Especially at the Clarion-Clipperton zone (CCZ), which stretches from Mexico to Hawaii there is more cobalt, nickel, and manganese than anywhere else on Earth.
Cell phones, computer chips, and electric cars, especially batteries, use these components. The 2015 Paris Agreement (supposed to save us from climate catastrophe) will increase demand for copper, rare earth metals, nickel, and cobalt 10-30 times over the next two decades. Therefore deep sea mining proponents argue that it is required for the current energy transition. the world’s simplest battery.
The CCZ is a network of international waterways, so it’s necessary an international agreement for the works, abstracting the fact that initial exploration efforts in the 1970s were costly and due to the abundance of fossil resources, abandoned. Regardless, the topic arrived at the UN, which ratified the Law of the Sea Convention in 1982 and has defined the depths of the seas as human commons good. The administration responsibility fell to the International Seabed Authority (ISA).
The ISA began issuing Clarion-Clipperton zone exploration permits in 2000. The largest “puzzle piece” is the Cook Islands and were received by Belgium in late 2012, allowing it to access 75,000 km2. Also in this area Global Sea Mineral Resources (GSR) conducts marine exploration to find new resources, to the advantage of Belgium. Because a mining operation in the international CCZ could not be guaranteed, GSR gained exploration contracts to compensate for the investment risk. It’s no accident that Belgium and GSR applied for this CCZ part. The mining activities show that this area has been mined for manganese nodules since the 1970s, by “Union Minière” (now Umicore), which had established itself in the mining industry.
Therefore GSR, for the last decade has been doing technology’s tests at CCZ to check environmental impact. Patania II uses no drills or excavators, but it resembles seafloor and can hold 3 tonnes. To make a profit the robot should produce 3 million tonnes of nodules annually, it must deliver them.
There is already a new model, Patania III, which is four times bigger than its predecessor and a central pipe was added, to bring the “harvest” to the surface. But the GSR won’t invest until it has guarantees and a legal framework for extractions. Commercial-scale development could be achieved by 2028.