The next frontier of EV battery materials: the ocean floor

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The USGS is studying the effects of mining to help the International Seabed Authority determine what environmental protections are needed.

“It’s important to realize that all types of mining have environmental consequences,” said USGS spokesman Alex Demas.

The USGS is in the very early stages of research into these factors, Demas said.

Last month, a group of ocean scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology released the results of a study of sediment clouds created by seabed mining. They worked with Global Sea Mineral Resources, a Belgian marine engineering company exploring ways to extract polymetallic nodules.

The MIT researchers outfitted what they called a “pre-prototype collector” with instruments and cameras to monitor the plume of sediment created by the machine. Their measurements showed that as the sediment plume dispersed, it “stayed relatively low, remaining less than 2 meters from the seabed,” an MIT publication said.

“The big takeaway is that there are complex processes … that take place when you do this type of collection,” said Thomas Peacock, professor of mechanical engineering at MIT and co-author of the study.

In general, researchers are concerned that the plumes will spread beyond the mine site and harm life on the high seas.

Most mining companies that apply for permits from the Seabed Authority use machines like the collector in the study, which suck rocks and surrounding material from the seabed.

The Global Sea Mineral Resources system separates the nodules from the sediments inside the collector. The nodules are transported to a surface tank by a pipe, while the majority of the sediments are evacuated behind the collector.

Metals Co. said its method transports polymetallic nodules to the surface, with water and sediment dumped in a “middle column”.

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