The E-tech element potential of submarine ferromanganese crusts

Lead Research Organisation: National Oceanography Centre
Department Name: Science and Technology

Abstract

High concentrations of technologically critical elements (such as Te, cobalt, REEs, Nb, Pt, W, Bi, Ni, Mn & Ti) occur throughout the global ocean basins where they are incorporated into thick crusts of ferromanganese oxide (otherwise known as Fe-Mn crusts). These crusts have attracted particularly interest because they are very rich in rare elements such as cobalt, tellurium and selenium. These elements are in short supply but they are critical to emerging new technologies including renewable energy and the 'green' economy. Recent estimates of the potential global tonnage of these metal rich crusts suggest about 200 billion tonnes exists on the seafloor. International interest is growing with China and Japan applying for mining licenses from the United Nations International Seabed Authority. Hence the need to address concerns about the sustainability of these crusts as a resource and their potential environmental impacts if exploited.

This proposal aims to establish a consortium of geological, biological and oceanographic researchers and industry specialists that will identify what processes control the formation, distribution, abundance and concentration of metal-rich crusts on the deep seafloor. By bringing together a team of specialists, we will also address technical issues surrounding the exploration of these crusts and environmental issues related to their exploitation.

Planned Impact

Security of Supply of Essential Metals:

This proposal will address a novel and new supply source of E-tech elements such as tellurium from a marine resource perspective. it will engage with the off-shore survey, mining engineering industry as well as researchers in biology, geology, oceanography and marine chemistry. Only through a holistic multidisciplinary approach are we able to access the viability of this resource and its potential environmental impacts.

Tellurium is enriched in Fe-Mn crusts in the deep ocean by almost 10,000 times compared with continental crust. It is one of the E-tech elements that are considered critical to the emerging high-tech industries and the 'green' economy. For example, the renewable energy sector identifies a sufficient and secure supply of tellurium as the single largest barrier in its development and production of CdTe photovoltaic devices. These are the only thin film photovoltaic technologies to surpass crystalline silicon photovoltaic devices in both cost and efficiency in the provision of megawatt PV systems. Currently, the UK and European economies are strongly dependent on imports of strategic E-tech metals such as tellurium from politically and/or economically unstable countries (e.g. Zaire); a fact recognized by the European Commission in the priority given to the investigation of strategic mineral resources in European territories, including the seabed (European Commission, Horizons 2020). There is no primary source of tellurium. Its major supply is through by processing of copper ore from Zaire, which remains the major global supplier.

Environmental protection:
Our proposal is also aimed at assessing potential environmental impacts to ensure any future development of marine resources is sustainable and responsible. For example, our research will provide new and important information on the composition and evolution of sea floor metal-rich crusts and hence their potential environmental impact on adjacent ecosystems if they are mined. Ultimately, results from our research will enable informed decisions by non-governmental organisations and policy makers scrutinising the sustainability of future extraction of metal rich crusts on the sea floor. For example, this research is identified as a priority in the new ten-year science plan for InterRidge, which has observer status at United Nations International Seabed Authority, and of which PI Murton was chair (20010-2013). The importance of the environmental impacts is recognised by the current EU Framework 7 call on assessing potential environmental impact of deep-sea mining as well as in current draft legislation for the EC Horizons 2020 research framework.

Publications

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Murton B (2013) Seafloor mining: the future or just another pipe dream? in Underwater Technology

 
Description We have identified the main questions relating to the natural processes affecting the formation, composition and concentration of manganese-rich crusts on the deep ocean floor and their likely environmental impacts on resource recovery. These questions form the basis of a multi-discipinary research programme that includes industry and NGO partners and spans the UK and Brazilian funding agencies.
Exploitation Route Our findings will inform strategies for minimising impact and maximising the effectiveness of seafloor mineral exploration in the future.
Sectors Chemicals,Energy,Environment,Other

URL https://nlstg.noc.ac.uk/marine-e-tech/#
 
Description The work has led to a 4.5 million pound consortium project involving industry, academic and non-governmental organisations (including the International Seabed Authority and Society of South Pacific Islands). The project also partners with the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Environment,Other
Impact Types Societal,Economic

 
Description UN IRP invited contribution o deep-sea mineral resources
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
Impact Recommendations for informed basis for policy approach to weighing risks/rewards regarding sea-bed mineral resources.
URL https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/8729/-UNEPs_environmental,_social_and_economic...
 
Title new approach to assessing sea-floor mineral resources 
Description development and implementation of seafloor drilling technology and remote sensing of marine resources. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2016 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Increased efficiency and reduced cost of sea-floor mineral resource assessment and exploration. 
 
Description Blue Mining : EU FP7 Consortium R&D Programme 
Organisation Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres
Department Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel
Country Germany, Federal Republic of 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution EU funded 15M euro consortium R&D programme on seafloor mineralisation and resources as direct result of NERC standard grants on CayMin etc.
Collaborator Contribution I lead the work package on mineral resource assessment. Partners (GEOMAR, TNTU Norway, and Uni Lisbon) lead resource exploration, other partners (IHC mining, 2H offshore ltd., Acher Bilt A.S. and Uni Aarchen) lead on extraction technology and economics.
Impact reports on remote sensing of marine mineral deposit assessment using geoacoustics, seismics and controlled source electromagnetics. Numerous contributions given during international meetings.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Blue Mining : EU FP7 Consortium R&D Programme 
Organisation Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)
Country Norway, Kingdom of 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution EU funded 15M euro consortium R&D programme on seafloor mineralisation and resources as direct result of NERC standard grants on CayMin etc.
Collaborator Contribution I lead the work package on mineral resource assessment. Partners (GEOMAR, TNTU Norway, and Uni Lisbon) lead resource exploration, other partners (IHC mining, 2H offshore ltd., Acher Bilt A.S. and Uni Aarchen) lead on extraction technology and economics.
Impact reports on remote sensing of marine mineral deposit assessment using geoacoustics, seismics and controlled source electromagnetics. Numerous contributions given during international meetings.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Blue Mining : EU FP7 Consortium R&D Programme 
Organisation RWTH Aachen University
Country Germany, Federal Republic of 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution EU funded 15M euro consortium R&D programme on seafloor mineralisation and resources as direct result of NERC standard grants on CayMin etc.
Collaborator Contribution I lead the work package on mineral resource assessment. Partners (GEOMAR, TNTU Norway, and Uni Lisbon) lead resource exploration, other partners (IHC mining, 2H offshore ltd., Acher Bilt A.S. and Uni Aarchen) lead on extraction technology and economics.
Impact reports on remote sensing of marine mineral deposit assessment using geoacoustics, seismics and controlled source electromagnetics. Numerous contributions given during international meetings.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Blue Mining : EU FP7 Consortium R&D Programme 
Organisation University of Lisbon
Country Portugal, Portuguese Republic 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution EU funded 15M euro consortium R&D programme on seafloor mineralisation and resources as direct result of NERC standard grants on CayMin etc.
Collaborator Contribution I lead the work package on mineral resource assessment. Partners (GEOMAR, TNTU Norway, and Uni Lisbon) lead resource exploration, other partners (IHC mining, 2H offshore ltd., Acher Bilt A.S. and Uni Aarchen) lead on extraction technology and economics.
Impact reports on remote sensing of marine mineral deposit assessment using geoacoustics, seismics and controlled source electromagnetics. Numerous contributions given during international meetings.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Blue Mining : EU FP7 Consortium R&D Programme 
Organisation University of Southampton
Department Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution EU funded 15M euro consortium R&D programme on seafloor mineralisation and resources as direct result of NERC standard grants on CayMin etc.
Collaborator Contribution I lead the work package on mineral resource assessment. Partners (GEOMAR, TNTU Norway, and Uni Lisbon) lead resource exploration, other partners (IHC mining, 2H offshore ltd., Acher Bilt A.S. and Uni Aarchen) lead on extraction technology and economics.
Impact reports on remote sensing of marine mineral deposit assessment using geoacoustics, seismics and controlled source electromagnetics. Numerous contributions given during international meetings.
Start Year 2014
 
Description CayMin: Study of water depth and basement influence on composition of hydrothermal mineralisation. 
Organisation University of Southampton
Department Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Direct result: new collaboration resulting in NERC standard grant award focused on mineralisation at the Cayman vents. I led the grant.
Collaborator Contribution Partners contributed by bringing a land-based perspective.
Impact see section for grant: CAymin
Start Year 2012
 
Description BBC TV News interview 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact BBC News televised interview and set piece for broadcast, with BBC Science correspondent David Shukman.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Deep-sea Mining Summit key-note seminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Setting the UK agenda for engagement in deep-sea minerals research and UK Industrial Stategy
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://deepsea-mining-summit.com/
 
Description Key-note presentation to the International Seabed Authority meeting, Uganda 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Invited to speak at an ISA workshop, engaging developing countries in the technological and scientific challenges around deep-sea mineral resources.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.isa.org.jm/
 
Description Research Cruise Oct-Dec 2016: JC142 including outreach web site and twitter 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact engagement with NGOs and other policy influencing parties about the risk/rewards of deep-sea minerals
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description invited contribution to UNEP International Resources Panel, Brusselles 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Invited key-note presentation to UNEP IRP re: deep-sea mineral resources, risks and rewards.
Influence decisions by EU commissioners who were present in the audience.
Reflected in the latest UN IRP report.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://web.unep.org/resourcepanel/
 
Description lecture series given to University of Sao Paulo students 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Series of lectures about deep-sea mineral resources and technology. Knowledge exchange and capacity building with our NEWTON fund partners.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015