The rapid increase and use of electric vehicles has seen an exponential demand for materials to make batteries, and cobalt, a rare metal that can only be found on land in any reasonable quantity in the Republic of Congo. However, the metal is quite abundant on the sea floor.
The EU is running a project, called Blue Nodules, to determine both feasibility and environmental impact on mining for cobalt on the sea floor. Head of the project, Laurens de Jonge said that the move to electric vehicles will means “we need those resources”for the production of batteries.
Off the coast of Malaga, tests are being run with a prototype machine, Apollo II, to see how sand and silt will behave and travel when stirred by the tracks of the machine.
Compared to on-land resources, the ocean floors, particularly the abyssal plains of the Pacific, are littered with “nodules” of rocks, many of which are full of cobalt. Laurens de Jonge said: “It’s not difficult to access – you don’t need to go deep into tropical forests or deep into mines. It’s readily available on the seafloor, it’s like potato harvesting only 5km deep in the ocean.”
However, like mining on-land, mining the sea-bed will have an environmental impact, and it is the research being carried out by Blue Nodules that hopes to determine the extent of that damage and whether it is sustainable.