Mapped: The Mineral-Rich Clarion-Clipperton Zone
The World Bank estimates that over 3 billion tons of minerals and metals are needed to develop the wind, solar, geothermal power and energy storage required to keep climate change in check and maintain a temperature change of less than 2 degrees Centigrade (2OC). This enormous demand will result in a major strain on the mineral resources currently being extracted from our planet. The Clarion-Clipperton Zone may help.
The ocean floor is rich in minerals, polymetallic suphides, cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts and huge deposits of polymetallic nodules, containing manganese (Mn), nickel (Ni), cobalt (Co), copper (Cu) and other rare earths.
Location of seabed minerals
Deep sea mining for polymetallic nodules has not yet started anywhere in the world but the International Seabed Authority (ISA), charged with regulating human activities on the deep-sea floor in international waters, has issued 30 contracts for mineral exploration.
Currently 16 international companies have contracts situated in the Pacific Ocean Clarion-Clipperton fracture zone (CCZ) and two companies have contracts in the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific Ocean.
The ISA estimates that there are more than 21 billion tons (Bt) of nodules within the Clarion-Clipperton Zone, containing about 5.95 Bt of manganese, 0.27 Bt of nickel, 0.23 Bt of copper and 0.05 Bt of cobalt.
Metal Content of Manganese Nodule Occurrences
Polymetallic nodules are composed of almost 100% usable mineral compared to increasingly low yields from land-mined ores.
In a recent life cycle sustainability study (Paulikas, et al), it was concluded that using nodules to extract metals for batteries versus using land-mined ores can reduce CO2 emissions by 80% (Ni), 76% (Cu), 29% (Co) and 22% (Mn). The results suggest that making 1 billion electric vehicle batteries from nodules could reduce atmospheric CO2 by 11.5 Gt.
Sourcing metals from oceanic nodules for technologies like batteries will not likely replace terrestrial mining for nickel, cobalt, manganese and copper but it could reduce mining in virgin areas and depress mining of low grade ores, which tend to have the highest social and environmental impacts (Paulikas, et al).
The full scope of socio-economic impacts of nodule mining has yet to be determined. The existing technology used to mine nodules is currently proprietary or needing to be developed making it difficult to predict the possible impact of the plumes formed by nodule mining on sedimentation, seafloor habitats and biota, mid-water or surface ecosystems.
Mt CO2 – megatonnes of carbon dioxide; 1 million tonnes of CO2
NOAA – National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
REEs – rare earth elements
Light REEs – lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, promethium, samarium, europium, gadolinium and scandium
Heavy Ree – terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, thulium, ytterbium, lutetium and yttrium