Deep-Sea Mining: How to Balance Need for Metals with Ecological Impacts – by Daniel Ackerman (Scientific American – August 31, 2020)

As the industry inches closer to reality, scientists probe potential environmental harms

Slashing humanity’s reliance on fossil fuels will require billions of kilograms of metal: a single wind turbine can contain more than a metric ton of copper, and electric car batteries demand heaps of cobalt, nickel and manganese.

Most of these metals now come from terrestrial mines—often at the cost of deforestation, water pollution and human rights abuses. But a vast trove of metals on the deep-sea floor could soon provide an alternative source.

Though companies have been eyeing this possibility for decades, engineering challenges and unfavorable economics have kept work in the exploration phase.

There has also been a lack of international rules to govern the nascent industry. But that is poised to change soon: The United Nations–chartered International Seabed Authority (ISA) has been finalizing regulations for commercially extracting deep-sea metals in international waters.

These rules could emerge within a year. The inherent tension in setting them lies in balancing economic interests in metal production with another consideration: the potential for environmental damage.

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