In his presentation at the Mines and Money London conference in November, the CEO of DeepGreen Metals Inc., Gerard Barron, outlined the problems facing the global economy in the supply of sustainable metals and minerals, and the role this private Vancouver-based company is planning to play.
Mining Beacon (MB) caught up with Mr Barron after his presentation and asked him about DeepGreen.
Gerard Barron (GB): We are focused on producing clean metals from high-grade seafloor polymetallic nodules containing nickel, copper, cobalt and manganese.
MB: In your presentation you mentioned a "stumbling block" for the electric vehicle (EV) and renewables industry, can you explain?
GB: The global transition from fossil fuels to renewables requires more than a ten-fold increase in Li-ion battery production, from circa 150 GWh at the moment to perhaps 1,700 GWh by 2030. Li-ion battery cathode chemistries are moving towards nickel-rich formulations, such as NMC 622 and NMC 811 (nickel, manganese, cobalt), and will require copper in significant quantities. There is likely to be deep deficits in the supply of these battery metals, and the environmental and social issues associated with the land-based mining of these metals is widely expected to be a stumbling block for the EV and green-energy storage industries.
MB: What is DeepGreen's answer?
GB: The world's largest undeveloped high-grade base-metal resources are the polymetallic nodules on the ocean floor in the Clarion Clipperton Zone (CCZ) of the Pacific, extending from the west coast of Mexico to Hawaii. These nodules sit on top of the deep-ocean abyssal plain, some 4 km under the ocean surface and more than 1,200 km from the closest shore. DeepGreen has interests (through wholly-owned Nauru Ocean Resources Inc.) in contract areas amounting to some 150,000 km2.
MB: What resources lie in this area?
GB: We only have inferred resources at this stage, but we have already estimated that there are 900 Mt in one of our zones alone, grading 1.3% Ni, 1.1% Cu, 0.2% Co and 29% Mn. There is a mean nodule abundance of 13 kg/m2, based on a nodule abundance cut-off of 4 kg/m2. The nodules are typically 1cm to 20 cm in diameter and lie within mud on the seafloor — within 30 cm of the surface. The whole CCZ probably contains 34,000 Mt of nodules, comprising 6,000 Mt manganese, 270 Mt nickel, 234 Mt copper and 46 Mt cobalt.
MB: And extracting this resource from a depth of 4 km?
GB: Deep-sea harvesters, specially designed to minimize impact, are designed to gather selected metal-rich nodules at depth. Using a lift system, the nodules are lifted to a ship on the surface then transferred to another ship for transportation to an onshore plant. Our patented hydrometallurgical processing technology is designed efficiently to extract and produce high-grade manganese, nickel, copper and cobalt products while targeting zero waste products. We intend to be amongst the lowest cost producers of high-value metals and products derived from seafloor polymetallic nodules.
MB: If you are able to access this vast resource wouldn't it disrupt the global mining industry?
GB: Yes, that is DeepGreen's plan! We are planning on annual production of 4.8 Mt of polymetallic nodules, containing 63,000 t/y nickel, 1.46 Mt/y manganese, 55,000 t/y copper and 6,000 t/y cobalt.
MB: Isn't it easier to mine on land?
GB: Yes, but seafloor mineral production offers many social and environmental advantages compared with mining on land. There is no deforestation, no overburden removal, no displacement or inconvenience to local people, no acid mine drainage and no tailings ponds. Our scientific team is working to ensure the health of the ocean, and responsible collection of polymetallic nodules.
MB: What have been the most recent developments?
GB: The inferred resources for NORI was announced in September this year, which confirmed CCZ as one of the largest undeveloped Co-Ni-Ma resources on the planet. It represented a significant milestone for DeepGreen in our quest to transform the way we supply the world with its metals.
MB: Thank you.
Gerard Barron will be presenting at the upcoming Mines and Money Asia, taking place in Hong Kong, 2-4 April 2019.