New technology needs deepsea mining

Ines Nastali, DPC Editor

When I attended the Nor-Shipping trade show in Oslo, Norway, in early June, I visited the technology hall to see the companies developing commercial battery solutions tasked with storing power generated by offshore wind turbines. These can be used by ships and ports to reduce emissions and society to operate in a renewable manner.

The units currently installed on vessels take up an entire room – which makes them unpopular installations. This is also true for land. I recently read about Scottish Power receiving the go-ahead by the Scottish government to install what it claim is “Europe’s biggest industrial-scale battery”, which has the size of “half a football pitch” and a 50 MW capacity.
I think that for battery power to be commercially viable on a large scale, installations will need to be shrunk in size, becoming lighter and efficient.

This is likely to have a similar evolution to the computer, which has moved from its first iteration that filled designated rooms in office buildings to its current form as a phone that can fit in the palm of a hand. This change was driven by consumer demand, but the leaps in technology needed to reach such dense storage capacity will not be as smooth. This is because it will require greater supplies of expensive materials, such as manganese, cobalt, and other rare earths.

It is already expensive to mine these on land and it is even more expensive to do so underwater, however, it will become necessary to mine the seabed in future. This view is shared by DPC readers, most of whom responded to our question of the month – asking if deepsea mining will be commercialised in the next 10 years – by saying that it will. At the same time, many voiced environmental impact concerns – some of which I personally share.

In fact, I believe that if we are to harvest materials from the sea, we need to do a lot more research on underwater conditions and human impact so that we can have machines that are able to operate in such harsh conditions with minimal interruption and environmental damage. I look forward to writing more about undersea mapping in future editions of DPC.