JAPAN AIMS TO COMMERCIALISE SEAFLOOR MINING IN 2020S
The Japanese government is aiming to commercialise the mining of rich seafloor deposits around Japan of such mineral resources as copper in the 2020s, according to officials.
The nation has relied on imports to meet demand for mineral resources like copper, lead, gold and silver since many domestic mines were shut down by the end of the 1970s. Mining these resource-abundant seafloor deposits could help shake off Japan’s reputation as a nation with few resources.
At a press conference at the end of January, Tetsuro Urabe, a professor emeritus of the University of Tokyo, could hardly conceal his excitement. He was announcing the discovery of a deposit about 1,400 meters below the ocean surface off Okinawa Prefecture’s Kumejima island.
“The minerals there are of a quality I’ve never seen before,” Urabe said. “One could say this discovery is astonishing.”
The research was conducted by Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC) using a remote-controlled vehicle, which retrieved six samples of ore with copper concentrations 15 to 30 times higher than those mined in South America.
Because the deposit could extend over a large area, JOGMEC believes there is potential to extract as much copper as a midsize mine on land.
The government intends to conduct a full-scale survey of the Kumejima deposit, officials said.
In Japan, a state-of-the-art research vessel with large-scale drilling systems was developed in 2012. The 118-meter-long, 6,283-ton Hakurei has helped improve, among other things, the accuracy of seafloor research using sonic waves, JOGMEC said.
JOGMEC also developed specialised mining equipment with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd., Mitsui Miike Machinery Co. and others. It also successfully conducted the world’s first trial mining of a seafloor deposit later that year.
JOGMEC has discovered two seafloor deposits near the main Okinawa island since 2013, in addition to the one off Kumejima. It said all three finds have high potential.
Moreover, the government has obtained exploration rights for a seafloor deposit discovered near Minamitorishima island, Japan’s eastmost territory, and another in the high seas off Hawaii.
The government’s plan to utilise marine energy and mineral resources designates the end of fiscal 2018 as a target for scientific research and related legislation for seafloor deposits, and the 2020s as a goal for commercial mining.
A Canadian company, meanwhile, has been developing equipment for seafloor mining off Papua New Guinea.
But Japan is the only nation that has been able to extract natural resources off the deep-sea floor. A huge business opportunity awaits if it can lead the world in developing commercial deep-sea mining technology.