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Northwood High School

Rare seafloor metals and the future of sustainable energy

When trillions of polymetallic nodules were first discovered at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean a century ago, there was no effort to get them, according to World Ocean Review. Now, as new technology developed, competition sparked between many countries to mine the rich supply of metal, as CBS News reported.

The nodules are very valuable since they contained metals such as cobalt, nickel, and other rare earth elements, which are the building blocks of cell phones, electric cars, and supercomputers, according to Business Insider.

There are so many nodules that it is estimated to have more cobalt, nickel, and manganese than the rest of Earth.

The nodules grew over the slow course of millions of years by absorbing metals from seawater, expanding around shell, bone, or rock, and their worth is estimated to be trillions of dollars. John E. Flipse, the previous president of Deepsea Ventures, said that the economics of deep-sea mining is very favorable.

Many of the nodules were found in the Clarion Clipperton Zone (CCZ), a large stretch of ocean in between Hawaii and Mexico. The International Seabed Authority sets the rules for deep-sea mining, dividing the CCZ into dozens of concessions.

Special deep-sea robots are built to mine the nodules, and the demand for them climbs high when the supply of critical metals runs low. The nodules could be a way for us to stop burning fossil fuels since it could be used to build electric cars.

However many scientists fear that the seafloor could be wrecked with the mining.

The destruction of ecosystems, geographic structures, and new species that have not been discovered yet could be the result of our harvesting.

Thankfully, organizations like the United Nation’s Seabed Authority protects the sea by setting aside nine protected areas that are off-limits to miners.

How we deal with the situation could have an enormous impact on the future and result in less dependency on fossil fuels or a negative impact on the environment.