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Metals from nodules on seabed offer environmental advantages

By Scott Jenkins |

Small-scale pilot testing has begun for a process that extracts nickel, manganese, cobalt and copper from nodules collected from the surface of the Pacific Ocean seafloor. Obtaining the metals from the seabed nodules has advantages over mining land-based ores because the nodules contain far less toxic heavy metals and can be processed with zero tailings, according to process developer DeepGreen Metals Inc. (Vancouver, B.C.; www.deep.green). The nodules are formed on the seafloor four to six km deep in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone, a region of the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and Mexico where the conditions permit precipitation of metal compounds onto nuclei of silica or calcium carbonate particles. The nodules contain around 30% Mn, 1.38% Ni, 1.17% Cu, 0.13% Co, and small amounts of zinc and rare-earth elements, explains Jeff Donald, head of onshore development at DeepGreen. Using robotic technology inspired by the undersea-cable-laying industry, DeepGreen harvests the nodules from the seafloor and raises them for further processing. “The nodules contain metals in combinations that don’t exist in typical ore bodies on land… “So we had to adapt existing metallurgical processes in novel ways to extract and refine the nodule…
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