Why does the world need cleaner metals?
What is the biggest environmental challenge that we face?
How will DeepGreen help us meet future energy needs?
What do environmentalists think about DeepGreen?
How would you explain DeepGreen’s work to a child?
Why is your country partnering with DeepGreen?
Why do we need more metals?
It is well known that we need to move away from fossil fuels – which are contributing to the climate crisis – and we need to do it soon. Experts have predicted there will be 1 billion electric cars on the roads by 2047.
To limit global warming to 2°C, according to a 2017 World Bank study, metal demand for electric-vehicle batteries will have to increase more than tenfold by 2050
However, there is currently not enough metal in the world to produce all the batteries required for this transition. The complicated process of extracting metals currently used to make Electric Vehicle (EV) batteries has such a big impact on the environment, that by some estimations, EVs are no cleaner than fossil fuel cars. This is why we urgently need a cleaner way of sourcing metals for EV batteries.
Why can’t we just recycle?
We want to, and we will. But we cannot recycle what we don’t have and at the moment, there is not enough metal in the system globally to meet the rapidly increasing demand created by the Electric Vehicle revolution.
The recycling rates for many base metals is already high and rising. Yet experts estimate we will need 3-10x more in circulation to achieve a closed loop economy. The need is greatest in developing countries, where early stages of industrialization mean a lack of recyclable metal.
One day this century we expect all EV battery metals to be recycled — meaning we will no longer need to extract new metal from the earth. In the meantime, we see ocean nodules as a transitional source of metal to move us towards a clean energy economy.
Why shouldn’t we keep mining the land?
The way we currently obtain most of our EV battery metals has unacceptable impacts on both the environment and human societies globally.
Land mining as a global industry creates 350 billion tonnes of solid waste for 9 billion tons of metals sourced, not to mention destroying more and more habitats and communities as we run out of high-grade metal ores and have to search further. Cobalt mining in particular has devastating effects on human lives, as children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are commonly forced to go down into mines to dig out metals.
By comparison, collecting metals from the ocean floor will not involve any displacement of communities, or child labour. And ocean nodules produce 99% less solid waste, 94% less land use, and 92% less deforestation than land mining.
What is on the ocean floor?
There are three types of metal deposits in the deep ocean, but the only one DeepGreen is focused on is polymetallic nodules. These are solid deposits of high-grade manganese, nickel, copper and cobalt, resting in clusters on the ocean floor on top of loose sediment, 4-6km deep in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. DeepGreen is exploring a small patch making up 0.34% of the ocean floor, in an area called the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ) between Hawaii and Mexico.
This part of the ocean floor contains significantly less biomass than any areas currently being destroyed by metal mining on land, with approx. three orders of magnitude fewer organisms in the ocean floor sediment compared to land soil. Ultimately, the environmental impact of ocean metal collection is drastically lower than that of land mining, on both an immediate local scale and wider global scale.
How does your process work?
There are various ways of extracting metals from the ocean, including mining in a traditional sense of digging/drilling. Our process simply involves collecting nodules resting on the ocean floor, separating them from any sediment and transporting them to the surface for processing. This avoids both the disruption and waste of traditional mining – no explosives, no drilling, no pipelines, no deforestation. We will then process the nodules (which are 100% usable, creating no solid waste products) in innovative processing facilities on the land.
What is the environmental impact of ocean metal collection?
Ultimately, the environmental impact of ocean metal collection is drastically lower than that of land mining, on both an immediate local scale and wider global scale. On a global scale, using ocean nodules to create the 1 billion Electric Vehicle (EV) batteries we need, will generate at least 75% less CO2 than using ores from land-based mines.
On a local level, small organisms that live on nodules will be impacted when the nodules are collected, and there will be disruption of the sediment resting on the deep ocean floor, resulting in ‘plumes’ of sediment being temporarily suspended which may affect filter feeding animals nearby. Our research suggests these plumes will settle back down in a few days or weeks within a limited area.
DeepGreen is currently carrying out a multi-year environmental impact assessment to fully understand and to mitigate against potential harm to the environment.
There may be no such thing as a perfect solution with zero impact, but we are committed to doing the best we possibly can for the planet.
What regulation is there around this?
The International Seabed Authority (ISA) was set up by the United Nations (UN) in 1994 to regulate any activity affecting the seabed in international waters, in accordance with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The ISA develops regulation inclusively, in partnership with its 168 member states. The ISA granted DeepGreen a license in 2011 for exploratory activity in a specified area of the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ) in the Pacific Ocean. Over a third of CCZ has been set aside as ‘Areas of Particular Environmental Interest’, meaning they are out of bounds, to protect marine ecosystems.
This precautionary regulation, put in place before any commercial nodule collection begins, protects the ocean floor from harm right from the start – a measure that no other place on earth has benefited from.
Why is DeepGreen a for-profit company?
The urgency of the climate crisis requires a quick and agile response, running at greater speed with more dedicated resources than NGOs are often able to operate at, with short timelines demanded by investors. Additionally, running a for-profit business allows us to recruit some of the best scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs, giving us the best chance of solving this pressing problem.
We are also mitigating against the typical potential pitfalls of a for-profit entity (i.e. letting profit come before the environment) in a number of ways. For example, by attracting shareholders with aligned values, and making explicit commitments to balance or override decisions being made on a profit-seeking basis, i.e. commitments to pursue carbon negative processing and zero waste operations.
What happens if you discover unexpected consequences?
The reason we have chosen to source metals from polymetallic nodules is because we believe, taking into account all the research, that this will have the lowest possible environmental and social impact of any way to aid our transition to cleaner energy use. So it follows that if we find anything suggesting the contrary, we will stop and look for another option. We call this principle of our business ‘showstoppers are showstoppers’.
Fortunately, the significant regulation and thorough research being done before any commercial activity begins, gives us confidence that we will catch any unexpected consequence before it is too late.
We have stated this explicitly and publicly to all our investors, so that all shareholders in the business are aligned with this commitment.
How will this contribute towards a closed loop economy?
Our vision for the future is a closed loop system, also known as a circular economy, where everything we need is made from recycled materials already in circulation and we do not need to extract any more resources from the earth.
The first step to achieving this is to supply enough metal into circulation to meet the growing demand. Then, within a decade of the first commercial production of our metals, DeepGreen aims to move towards recycling battery metals, so that we can help facilitate the closed loop. We are proactively working towards this model by establishing partnerships with like-minded EV and battery manufacturers committed to a circular supply chain.