Is the future of mining going underwater? The Metals Company, a developer of lower-impact battery metals from available seafloor polymetallic nodules no more prominent than 2 to 10cm, is betting on it.
Referring to the target of underwater mining exploration to find what The Metals Company refers to as a "battery in a rock," the goal is determining the best path toward clean energy production. Polymetallic nodules found on the seafloor contain large amounts of base metals needed to make batteries. Collecting nodules is similar to the noninvasive task of picking up golf balls on a driving range instead of terrestrial miners who dig deep into the earth for lower quality metals.
Compared to land-based mining, polymetallic nodules can reduce the environmental, social and governance (ESG) lifecycle impacts of land-based mining by between 70-99%. They can help solve the impending metals shortages that might otherwise jeopardize a green energy transition. Sitting unattached on the seafloor with no need for drilling and blasting, these nodules disrupt traditional mining practices. High grades of four metals exist in a single ore—meaning much less ore mass to process.
By responsibly sourcing battery metals to address what analysts at the likes of Wood Mackenzie and McKinsey see as a potential looming shortage of critical minerals for the electronic vehicle (EV) supply chain, the company is confident its seafloor mining operations will eventually be an innovative and clean response to the growing needs of the electric battery market. The estimated resource on the seafloor in the exploration contract areas held by The Metals Company's subsidiaries could produce 280 million EVs, fulfilling the needs of one-fourth of the global passenger car fleet.
In addition to providing an abundant, low-cost supply of battery metals like nickel, cobalt, copper and manganese, The Metals Company's process yields a far lower lifecycle ESG impact than conventional mining. Nodules lie on the abyssal plain, effectively a marine desert with up 1,500x less life than the biodiverse, carbon-storing Indonesian rainforests accounting for the supply of most nickel. And in the absence of toxic levels of hazardous elements, The Metals Company is able to eliminate solid waste streams and toxic tailings and produce 90% less CO2 emissions.
While the global move to EV transportation is on the immediate horizon, the vast demand for metals is a need that is yet to be solved. A massive and consistent supply of metals such as cobalt, copper, iron, zinc, lead, nickel, lithium, graphite, tellurium and neodymium will be essential for the future of EV. Many view the acquisition of these metals to meet the growing need of the EV industry to be an environmental and social nightmare.
Like fossil fuel extraction, conventional metal extraction comes at a steep cost to people and the planet, leading to vast deforestation in some of the most biodiverse areas on the planet. This environment generates the world's most significant industrial waste stream and gigatons of emissions, poisoning ecosystems and people's health and driving potential labor exploitation, including child labor.
In 2020, Tesla's Elon Musk promised a "giant contract" for nickel mined "efficiently and in an environmentally sensitive way." Enter The Metals Company, which is touting seafloor polymetallic nodule harvesting as a better way forward for the transition to clean energy and EVs, with the lightest planetary touch.
In addition to adhering to clean energy standards and procedures, The Metals Company is working to address the risks associated with the transition from internal combustion engines to EVs. Those risks include an expected slump in discovering new metal deposits, leading to shortages in critical metals and rising costs of raw materials.
Today a transparent regulatory regime is being supported by international law. The International Seabed Authority (ISA) governs mineral resources in the high seas. The Metals Company has the required contracts to explore its resources and is on track to secure its first production contract. Final exploitation regulations were expected to be in place in 2020 but have been delayed due to COVID and are expected to be adopted by the ISA soon after their in-person sessions resume.
Learn more about The Metals Company at www.metals.co.
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