The world needs more battery metals. Time to mine the seabed (The Economist – July 6, 2023)

Getting nickel from the deep causes much less damage than getting it on land

Burning fuel to move humans and goods by road produced about 6bn tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2021, 16% of global energy-related emissions. If countries are to curb the increase in the world’s temperature, they must stop these emissions. That means building battery-powered vehicles which run on electricity rather than internal combustion. And that in turn means mining and processing metals on an unprecedented scale.

Take nickel, which is used in the part of a battery that stores energy. The International Energy Agency reckons 80m tonnes of it must be mined between now and 2040 if the world is to hit its climate targets. That is more nickel than has ever been mined, and approaches the 100m tonnes of global unmined reserves measured by the United States Geological Survey.

It is a truism among resource economists that new demand creates new reserves, as price signals spur exploration and innovation. But that takes time, and the need is urgent. Happily, there exists a vast untapped source of the metal.

A stretch of seabed in the Pacific Ocean, called the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (ccz), some 4,000 metres deep, holds a staggering 340m tonnes of nickel. The trouble is that the rules covering seabed mining, which the International Seabed Authority (ISA), an arm of the UN, has been working on for 29 years, have been held back by a weak bureaucracy and the questionable concerns of conservationists.

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