Diddy Cameron has a new enthusiasm.
Sponsored by the Government, a company called UK Seabed Resources has won the first commercial exploration rights over a 58,000 square-kilometre area of the Pacific, he announced. The licence was granted by the International Seabed Authority, the body governing mining outside territorial waters.
Late this summer, the company will start to hunt for those so-called polymetallic nodules, potato-sized rocks rich in minerals which are found on the seabed, some 4,000 metres under the Pacific waves. Also known as manganese nodules, they were first discovered in 1868, in the Arctic ocean, but are found on ocean floors around the world.
It’s all very fascinating indeed. And there’s certainly no problem at all with extraction of the metals from the minerals. However…..
I’m always very hesitant about the “energy” argument. You know, sure, there’s lots of metals around but the price will inevitably go up as lower grade ores require more energy to extract? Sorta peak oil meets mineral exhaustion, a favourite of certain greenies.
But I do think that it has some validity here. Manganese, the major component of these nodules, is around $3,000 a tonne at present (that’s about right, if not exactly). And if you can get stuff up off the ocean floor through 4,000 metres of water for less than that then I’d be astonished. Note that this isn’t oil or gas coming up under its own pressure…..
Some of the South African gold mines are losing money simply because of this sort of equation. The ore down there is just fine but at 1 mile or more down the energy to get it to the surface makes the whole process uneconomic.
Most unconvinced that this will ever be economic. Quite apart from anything else there’s so much stuff already available on land…..