The European Commission is funding a deepsea mining project involving an international European consortium of industry and research organizations.
The Blue Nodules project, launched on February 1, is part of the Horizon 2020 program, which is helping to accelerate innovations that ensure secure and sustainable deepsea harvesting and processing of polymetallic nodules.
Polymetallic nodules occur on the seabed in most oceans around the world and contain large quantities of critical raw materials, such as nickel, copper, cobalt and manganese, as well as gallium and rare earth elements. They are vital for Europe’s innovative technologies, for manufacturing crucial alloys and for new and innovative products like batteries for electric cars, photovoltaic systems and devices for wind turbines. The project is part of E.U. recognition of the strategic importance of a sustainable supply of these raw materials.
The extreme conditions found on the ocean floor raise specific technical and environmental challenges, which are demanding and entirely different from land-based mining. To meet those challenges, the project will develop the seafloor and surface processes and equipment for sustainable deepsea harvesting of the nodules.
This project addresses the challenge of creating a viable and sustainable value chain to retrieve polymetallic nodules from the ocean floor. It will develop and test new highly-automated and sustainable technologies for deep-sea mining with minimal environmental pressures.
The technical side of the project is dedicated to subsea harvesting equipment in addition to the insitu seafloor and sea surface processing of polymetallic nodules. The operational aspect focuses on sea operations and logistics, including compliance with, and development of, rules and regulations, and the business case.
The independent, dedicated environmental part will focus on environmental pressures and on an Environmental Impact Assessment. In all areas, Blue Nodules will build on the results of the European FP7 projects, MIDAS and Blue Mining and the EcoMining pilot action funded by the JPI Oceans initiative of the European science foundations.
Rodney Norman, Director at IHC Mining, which is coordinating the project, explains that Blue Nodules is significant because it allows the European consortium to expand technological development beyond the vertical transportation system of the earlier Blue Mining project to the seafloor mining vehicle and other components of the system.
DEME, through Dredging International, is one of the industrial partners. On January 14, 2013, the International Seabed Authority signed a 15-year contract with DEME’s subsidiary Global Sea Mineral Resources (GSR) for the prospecting and exploration of polymetallic nodules. Under the contract, GSR has exclusive rights for exploration over 76,728 square kilometers of seabed in the eastern part of the Central Pacific Ocean.
Blue nodules is the third E.U. initiative that DEME has participated in, in addition to the Midas and Blue Mining projects.
Other project partners include:
Continental AG, United Kingdom & Hungary
IHC MTI, The Netherlands
De Regt Marine Cables, The Netherlands
Uniresearch, The Netherlands
Seascape Consultants Ltd., United Kingdom
Bureau Veritas, France
NIOZ, The Netherlands
RWTH Aachen, Germany
Aarhus University, Denmark