FAPESP Marine ferromanganese deposits - a major resource of E-tech elements (MarineE-tech)

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

Abstract

Minerals are essential for economic development, the functioning of society and maintaining our quality of life. Consumption of most raw materials has increased steadily since World War II, and demand is expected to continue to grow in response to the burgeoning global population and economic growth, especially in Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC) and other emerging economies. We are also using a greater variety of metals than ever before. New technologies such as those required for modern communication and computing and to produce clean renewable, low-carbon energy require considerable quantities of many metals. In the light of these trends there is increasing global concern over the long-term availability of secure and adequate supplies of the minerals and metals needed by society. Of particular concern are 'critical' raw materials (E-tech element), so called because of their growing economic importance and essential contribution to emerging 'green' technologies, yet which have a high risk of supply shortage.

The following E-tech elements are considered to be of highest priority for research: cobalt, tellurium, selenium, neodymium, indium, gallium and the heavy rare earth elements. Some of these E-tech elements are highly concentrated in seafloor deposits (ferromanganese nodules and crusts), which constitute the most important marine metal resource for future exploration and exploitation. For example, the greatest levels of enrichment of Tellurium are found in seafloor Fe-Mn crusts encrusting some underwater mountains. Tellurium is a key component in the production of thin film solar cells, yet is prone to security of supply concerns because of projected increased demand resulting from the widespread deployment of photovoltaic technologies; low recycling rates; and its production as a by-product from copper refining. As a result, it is vital to assess alternative sources of supply of tellurium and the other E-tech elements, the largest source of which is held as seafloor mineral deposits.

Our research programme aims to improve understanding of E-tech element concentration in seafloor mineral deposits, which are considered the largest yet least explored source of E-tech elements globally. Our research will focus on two key aspects: The formation of the deposits, and reducing the impacts resulting from their exploitation. Our primarily focus is on the processes controlling the concentration of the deposits and their composition at a local scale (10's to 100's square km). These will involve data gathering by robotic vehicles across underwater mountains and small, deep-sea basins off the coast of North Africa and Brazil. By identifying the processes that result in the highest grade deposits, we aim to develop a predictive model for their occurrence worldwide. We will also address how to minimise the environmental impacts of mineral exploitation.

Seafloor mining will have an impact on the environment. It can only be considered a viable option if it is environmentally sustainable. By gathering ecological data and experimenting with underwater clouds of dust that simulate those generated by mining activity, we will explore of extent of disturbance by seafloor mineral extraction. Metal extraction from ores is traditionally very energy consuming. To reduce the carbon footprint of metal extraction we will explore the novel use of organic solvents, microbes and nano-materials. An important outcome of the work will be to engage with the wider community of stakeholders and policy makers on the minimising the impacts of seafloor mineral extraction at national and international levels. This engagement will help inform policy on the governance and management of seafloor mineral exploitation.

Planned Impact

FAPESP Marine ferromanganese deposits -a major resource of E-tech elements (MarineE-tech)

Economic competitiveness:
MarineE-tech addresses a new supply source of E-tech elements such as tellurium, cobalt and the heavy rare earth elements from deep-sea ferromagnesian oxide deposits. These mineral deposits constitute the single largest resource of E-tech element on the planet. MarineE-tech will pursue this research through engagement with the off-shore survey and mining engineering industries, as well as academic researchers in biology, geology, geophysics, oceanography, micro-biology and marine chemistry in across the UK and in Brazil. Only through a holistic multidisciplinary approach that spans both local and trans-ocean scales are we able to access the potential of this resource and the environmental impacts arising from its future exploitation.

For example, tellurium is enriched in ferromagnesian oxide crusts on the deep ocean floor 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. 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). Other E-tech elements, concentrated in ferromagnesian oxide deposits, are similarly considered critical to modern economies yet also have supply limitations. As a result, marine sources of e-tech elements are increasingly being considered. For example, a recent report by the European Commission (EC) estimates that global annual turnover of marine mineral mining is expected to grow from virtually nothing to Euro 10 billion by 2030. This economic potential brings the relevance and impact of the research we are proposing into sharper focus than ever before.

Environmental protection:
MarineE-tech is also aimed at assessing potential environmental impacts to enable any future development of marine resources to be 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. This work will be contributed in full by leading UK off-shore environmental industry partners (MESL-Gardline Ltd.) with help from the only UK underwater mining engineering company (SMD Ltd.). The results of this work will help reduce the environmental impact of seafloor mining through better design of extraction machinery, giving an economic advantage to this UK engineering industry. It will also give the UK company MESL-Gardline Ltd. valuable experience in this emerging field, imparting further advantage to UK industry.

Ocean Stewardship and Governance:
MarineE-tech will also 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 programmes on assessing potential environmental impact of deep-sea mining as well as in current calls under the EC Horizons 2020 research framework.
 
Description Atlantic Seamounts host significant resources for critical elements such as cobalt and tellurium. Fro example, we have studied on seamount the size of the Isle of Wight and it has enough tellurium to build sufficient solar PV panels to provide up to 60% of the UK electricity demand.

Companion study of FeMn crusts on the Rio Grande Rise, 1000km west of Brazil, showed a poor resource potential and yielded insights into preservation processes of these deposits.
Exploitation Route Offer society an alternative source of elements and metals critical to a low carbon future civilisation.
Sectors Chemicals,Electronics,Energy,Environment,Transport,Other

URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-39347620
 
Description 1. Policy Advise: as member of the Dept of International Trade's Deep-sea Mining Stockholders Group. 2. Policy Advise: as member of the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy's Deep-sea Mining Working Group. Both advising the UK Gov. on developments and opportunities with deep-sea minerals.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Environment,Other
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
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...
 
Description FAPESP Marine ferromanganese deposits - a major resource of E-tech elements (MarineE-tech)
Amount £2,000,000 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/M011186/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2015 
End 08/2019
 
Description Tectonic Ocean Spreading at the Charlie-Gibbs Fracture Zone (TOSCA)
Amount € 800,000 (EUR)
Organisation Marine Institute 
Sector Public
Country Ireland
Start 05/2018 
End 04/2019
 
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 2H Offshore Engineering
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 Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres
Department Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel
Country Germany 
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 
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 
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 
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 
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 
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 FAPESP: MarineE-tech 
Organisation University of Sao Paulo
Department Oceanographic Institute
Country Brazil 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I am chief scientist of the bi-lateral research programme
Collaborator Contribution FAPESP funded partners matching NERC funding and contributing 2 months of ship time
Impact Cruise in 2016 to NE Atlantic. Numerous conference papers presented. joint studentships. Exchange of technological knowhow and delivery of a teaching lectures.
Start Year 2015
 
Description Tectonic Oceanic Spreading (TOSCA) 
Organisation University College Dublin
Country Ireland 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have collaborated in conceiving the original concept of the proposal and provided interpretation of the initial data.
Collaborator Contribution Partners have acquired Irish research vessel time and access to their Irish research ROV over a 4 week-long cruise for May-June 2018.
Impact Geology and geophysics.No outcomes as yet
Start Year 2016
 
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 Deep-sea Mining Working Group, BEIS 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Advisor and member of the cross-government department working group on Deep-sea Mining, organised by BEIS
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
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