Polymetallic nodules are a source of metals for engineering conducive to the environment. Many modern devices are based on highly innovative technologies. They are impossible to build without the use of copper, nickel, cobalt, manganese and other metals, which are found in the nodules.

Copper, as well as its alloys commonly accompany us in modern life and civilization. Certain uses of it, such as for example plumbing, corrosion-resistant coating or food industry are obvious and known to everyone. Copper is however of considerable importance in the development of emerging green technologies. Copper has excellent characteristics of current conducting, hence its great role in energy generation for a modern but sustainable society. Unconventional methods of renewable energy production require the development of innovative technologies for the collection and processing of various forms of energy. Generating the same amount of energy from a modern wind turbine compared to a power industry based on fossil fuels, requires the application of even a dozen tonnes or more copper. The percentage of copper in the terrestrial deposits decreases, and the high concentration of this metal in nodules provides the potential for the efficient and sustainable exploitation of subsea deposits. Copper has a key role in the energy efficiency - it is estimated that the prudent use of one tonne of copper in the energy sector may radically reduce the CO2 emissions by up to 200 tonnes per year.

Nickel, is used primarily for the production of corrosion resisting steels, protective and ornamental coatings and special super-alloys used in efficient, cutting-edge and cost-effective engines with low emissions and low specific fuel consumption. The future use of nickel is primarily ecological nickel-metal hydride battery. These innovative batteries do not contain toxic cadmium compounds as rechargeable nickel-cadmium batteries and have very high energy density. Nickel foams are used in the production of the alkaline fuel cell (AFC). The AFC is one of the most complex and highly-developed fuel cell technologies. They use solely hydrogen and pure oxygen to produce electricity, water and heat. Alkaline fuel cells based on nickel foams is a technology completely fulfilling the expectations of a future sustainable energy conversion technology. This technology has such features as for instance, high efficiency electric trace emissions and the possibility to use them for the cogeneration processes The materials used for their construction are environmentally friendly.

Manganese is an element without which it would impossible to manufacture durable and lightweight steels used for example in the engineering of means of transport. Its use vastly reduces fuel consumption, CO2 emissions and makes the high energy efficiency operations possible. Potassium permanganate (Potassium permanganate) is applied in cutting edge external water treatment processes. In the situation of its universal accessibility it is important for the development of civilization in countries with restricted access to water.

Cobalt

Sustainable development of progressive engineering based on advanced science requires a constant supply of metals. Deep ocean mining therefore constitutes an unconventional, forward-thinking, technologically advanced, alternative sourcing of raw materials for environmentally friendly technologies. The innovative process of extracting deep-sea minerals is more favourable than the land-based mining operations from the environmental point of view conducted on land-based deposits.

Firstly, in the case of the ocean mining there is no risk of disruption of social structures in the mined areas. Such a risk is always there when the mining operations are on land. The land-based mines, especially open-pit type, occupy a large area and deeply interfere in the social and environmental system. Changes may even lead to a regional loss or degradation of the local cultural societies. Notwithstanding the above, this threat does not occur in the case of the highly-advanced ocean mining. On the contrary, in accordance with the planned mining licensing policy, cooperation between the IOM and the UN’s International Seabed Authority may include a hybrid social business model (Hybrid Social Business - HSB). The HSB business model is based on the benefits for the mankind, a positive social impact as well as promoting progressive, sustainable human development programs.

Another vitally important factor in favour of the deep ocean mining is that the deposits lie directly on the seabed. There is no need for conducting such devastating operations as pre-strip. Operations of this type in the case of the land mining can lead to a significant environmental devastation and the destruction of the landscape on a regional scale. Ocean deposits are polymetallic-type with greater metal contents than terrestrial deposits, which yields significantly more advantageous extraction efficiency. In case of terrestrial deposits the mean values of copper content in the ore are now at about 0.5%, whereas in the polymetallic nodules there is twice as much of it. The deposits of lateritic nickel ores are mainly located in the equatorial belt, so the development of mines often leads to degradation equatorial rainforests.

In case of innovative ocean mining technology the engineering methods will be more advanced and efficient than usual. The use of ships and platforms ensures the high efficiency of the process. After completion the project provides one of the most advanced, optimal possibilities for reuse or recycling of materials.

The IOM during its lengthy research activities has thoroughly studied the environmental background as well as the potential impact of mining on marine organisms. Geological data concerning the abundance of the nodules and economic pre-feasibility studies prove that the actual mining works would span over only a fraction of the area being the subject of the contract with the ISA. The nature of the deposit guarantees a large amount of area not affected by mining. This strongly promotes the preservation of vital biodiversity in the Clarion-Clipperton area.

The Environmental Management Plan for the Clarion-Clipperton Zone approved by the Decision of the 18th Session of the International Seabed Authority introduces 9 zones of particular environmental interest, which together hold a surface area many times greater than the surface of the potential mining. Additionally, the IOM has introduced the impact reference zone and preservation reference zones within its research area, in accordance with the ISA standards.

In these areas a pioneering, constant monitoring of factors which might affect the environment will be conducted. Such a widespread activity in providing advanced technical assistance to the environmentally sustainable exploitation of marine resources has no known equivalent in other types of natural resources exploitation.

The Interoceanmetal has for a long time been carrying out scientific research strictly related to the formal, experimental evaluation of the impact exerted by mining on the environment. The long-term studies involving the impression of stress on the benthonic environment have been conducted between the years 1994 and 2000. The BIE (Benthic Impact Experiment) experiment was carried out at depths of 4200 - 4500 meters and included a test where a plume of sediments was stirred up and strong physical impact was exerted on the bottom layer, using disturber of a similar characteristic as a collector potentially used for mining.

The following have been studied:

  • disturbance thickness,
  • suspension and re-settlement of sediment,
  • near-bottom currents characteristics,
  • changes in the sediment properties,
  • pore waters chemistry (nutrients and heavy metals),
  • biological response to the disturbance.

The results of the advanced research did not indicate any threats from the experiment to the biodiversity in the area. Upon a completion of the BIE experiment, this region is periodically monitored during a number of research expeditions. Additional data was collected during the expedition in 2014.

Nowadays, the IOM has been conducting numerical studies on the spread of the sediment plume particles lifted up in the course of mining operations as sediment excavated together with the nodules. This might be in particular one of the elements suspected as a potential risk for the natural environment. Preliminary results suggest a quite rapid fading of the sediment plume in time. Simultaneously, advanced conceptual design works on the closed-circulation type vertical transport system are carried out. This solution should reduce the risk of discharges to minimum. Moreover, the potential for the application of biorenewable and degradable biopolymers as a modifier for rheological and sedimentation characteristics of the slurry and sediment plume is under investigation.