Mineral Resource Composition
Polymetallic nodules are concretions comprised of concentric layers of manganese and iron oxides/hydroxides containing elevated abundances of cobalt, nickel, rare earth elements, lithium, titanium, zirconium, copper, molybdenum, and thallium.
How and Where They From
Polymetallic nodules are spherical to potato-shaped concretions found lying on the abyssal plain at water depths ranging from 4,000 to 6,000 meters. Nodules vary in size but are generally small (commonly less than 10 centimeters) with rounded to irregular forms. Polymetallic nodules form from the slow precipitation of metallic components from seawater and/or the pore fluids of sediment on which they form.
Why We Need These Resources
The transition to renewable energy sources has begun. Soaring prices for some critical minerals essential for battery manufacturing, as well as supply chain disruptions caused by geopolitical events a are creating obstacles to meet clean energy goals.
Low-carbon energy and transportation technologies, including solar, wind energy, and electric vehicles are enabled through battery storage systems, however these batteries are metal intensive.
Recycling may one day be a viable option for supplying a portion of the required metals, but there are not enough materials in circulation to meet demand through recycling alone.
Current land sources are producing some of these metals from ores of lower grade than have been found in seafloor deposits. Continuing to rely on the terrestrial sources also means that more land will be used for extraction, making it impossible to avoid the direct and indirect significant environmental and community impacts from land mining of larger and deeper mines required for the lower-grade deposits.
The metals that will be required to produce the metals we need over the next two decades can only be supplied by a combination of marine-sourced metals, land-sourced metals, better recycling practices, and development of new technologies using more abundant materials.
Nearly 100% of the minerals found in polymetallic nodules are usable and three or four different metals would be extracted, which on land would require three or four different mines. Nodules lie unattached on the ocean floor so no drilling, excavating, digging, or blasting is required to recover them, and there is no or little overburden to remove, which can be the dominant material moved in land-based mining. Environmental studies indicate that polymetallic nodule recovery can be achieved in a way that generates no solid waste, emits up to 90% less carbon emissions than terrestrial mining, and does not produce toxic tailings or waste products.
Paulikas, D., Katona, S., Ilves, Saleem, H. (2020, December 1). Life cycle climate change impacts of producing battery metals from land ores versus deep-sea polymetallic nodules. Journal of Cleaner Production (Volume 275). ScienceDirect.com. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959652620338671?via%3Dihub
Paulikas, D., Katona, S., Ilves, Saleem, H. (2022, January 13). Deep-sea nodules versus land-ores: A comparative systems analysis of mining and processing wastes for battery metal supply chains. https://doi.org/10.1111/jiec.13225
U.S. Geological Survey. 2022. U.S Geological Survey Releases 2022 List of Critical Minerals.
U. S. Geological Survey. 2021. Mineral Commodity Summaries. USGS.gov.
U.S. Geological Survey. n.d. Critical Mineral Commodities in Renewable Energy | U.S. Geological Survey (usgs.gov) https://www.usgs.gov/media/images/critical-mineral-commodities-renewable-energy
Odyssey's Polymetallic Nodule Focused Projects
Polymetallic nodules can play a pivotal role in providing an additional source of metals that are in high demand to power the future. The table below lists the mineral commodities found in nodules and their primary uses.
Electronics industry to produce photoelectric cells; also used in high-temperature superconductors used in filters for wireless communications.
Stainless and alloy steels, nonferrous alloys and superalloys, and electroplating.
Steel alloys to increase strength, hardness, electrical conductivity and resistance to corrosion and wear.
Copper (Cu) (refined)
Electrical applications and electronics, transportation equipment, machinery
High-temperature ceramic industries.
High-performance alloys for jet engines, spacecraft, military equipment, and other high-tech products.
Steelmaking and solar cells.
Fiber optics and night vision applications.
Rechargeable batteries for mobile phones, laptops, digital cameras and electric vehicles.
Rare Earth Elements (REE)
Components in high technology devices, including smart phones, digital cameras, computer hard disks, computer monitors, and electronic displays.
Magnets, batteries and superalloys used in jet engines and gas turbines
Steel and batteries and to reduce the octane level in gasoline.