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Deep-sea mining activities intensify to meet demand for renewable energy despite worries

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Deep-sea mining activities intensify to meet demand for renewable energy despite worries

Among other metals, the polymetallic nodules found in the deep-sea bed contain nickel and cobalt, which are essential for making the batteries required to power electric vehicles. To reach net-zero goals, there is a greater need for certain metals.
The National Institute of Ocean Technology in India designed the Varaha-1 deep-sea mining device, which recently completed a field test at a depth of 5,270 metres in the Central Indian Ocean.
This is merely an exploration test; actual commercial mining won’t start until the UN-affiliated International Seabed Authority (ISA) develops a set of mining regulations that everyone—including India—can agree upon.

Deep-sea mining is opposed by a number of nations, businesses, NGOs, coalitions, and environmentalists due to potential harm to marine species. However, the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ) in the Pacific Ocean will now be the site of commercial company’s first mining trials after the ISA recently gave its approval.

Deep-sea mining machine Varaha-1 reached a depth of 5,270 metres to mine polymetallic nodules from the seabed as part of a test. Cdr. Gopakumar K. and his team returned with confidence and are preparing for the next stage of testing and system development.

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The ocean bed has tonnes of potato-sized rocks formed over millions of years, called polymetallic nodules. These nodules contain nickel and cobalt among other metals that are vital for the production of batteries needed to power electric vehicles. Electric vehicle (EV) targets have increased the demand for metals like nickel and Cobalt which can be mined from the ocean bed.

An estimate indicates about 380 million metric tonnes (MMT) of polymetallic nodules are available on the seabed, in the area allocated to India. Even if we can mine three MMT per year for 20 years, it’s only one-sixth of the total available nodules.

An Integrated Mining System will be developed for mining polymetallic nodules from 6,000m depth in the Indian Ocean. Metals from these nodules would be extracted and used for EV batteries. The Deep Ocean Mission aims to support the Blue Economy Initiatives.

An Integrated Mining System will be developed for mining polymetallic nodules from 6,000m depth in the Indian Ocean. Metals from these nodules would be extracted and used for EV batteries. The Deep Ocean Mission aims to support the Blue Economy Initiatives.

Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) is an alliance of organisations working to promote the conservation of biodiversity on the high seas. “There is a reckless and an irresponsible rush to allow commercial deep-sea mining without understanding its implications fully,” says Emma Wilson, Advocacy Programme Officer, DSCC.

Mining machines like Varaha-1 will move on the seafloor, collecting the nodules along with some soil and pushing these nodules via riser pipes, all the way up to the top to the vessel (ship) After the metallic rocks are separated, the remaining water and sediments will be released back into the ocean at a different depth.

Deep sea plays a crucial role in climate regulation, which we are yet to understand fully. Noise pollution from the activity is said to impact the marine ecosystem. A big lesson we’ve learned from land-based mining is that extractive industries have many risks. The negotiations at ISA are ongoing and the authority is yet to come up with all the regulations and a code. There are complaints about the lack of transparency in ISA. The voting structure at the ISA is also weighted in favour of mining, says Wilson.

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