We’ve looked on mountains, we’ve looked underground, we’ve even looked in outer space, but now – we are looking beneath the ocean. Deep-sea miners are gaining traction for recovery of precious metals from the ocean floor. There are three main sources that Canadian companies DeepGreen Metals and Nautilus Minerals have been analyzing for their significant quantities of manganese, copper, nickel, and cobalt. These sources are large nodules, seafloor massive sulphide (SMS) deposits around hydrothermal vents, and cobalt-rich crusts near underwater mountains. Nautilus Minerals is attempting to recover the copper and gold in SMS deposits around hydrothermal vents, approximately 1,500 m below the ocean surface. Their Solwara 1 site is 0.1 square km, just 25 km off of the shore of Papua New Guinea. The plan is to collect the top 10-12 metres of the surface, bringing the material up as a slurry through a pump designed for the oil and gas industry. The material is separated at the boat, and the water is pumped straight back down. Nautilus, and other deep-sea miners are struggling with ecological impacts and environmental concerns. Not only do they need to jump over the hurdles of regulatory agreements and management of environmental impacts, but the endeavour is expensive. They have already spent $400 million, with another $250 million to come. The payback will be in the metals recovered, the Solwara site has a reported 10-15 times higher grade than copper reserves found on land.
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