TechnipFMC, Loke Team Up for Deepsea Minerals Venture
Pair look to commercialize autonomous subsea production system for rare earth elements located on the ocean floor off Norway and internationally.
TechnipFMC and Loke Marine Minerals are joining forces to develop a patent-pending, autonomous subsea production system and other enabling technologies allowing for the extraction of seabed minerals used in electric vehicles, clean energy technologies, and consumer electronics. The system itself aims to have minimal impact on the environment and positions the company for potential offshore licensing on the Norwegian Continental Shelf (NCS) and internationally.
The NCS is known to have copper, zinc, cobalt, and other rare earth elements. Norway is one of the only countries to have formalized marine mineral legislation. The Norwegian government is expected to make a final decision on licensing approval for exploration and production in 2023.
TechnipFMC has a minority ownership stake in Loke. Wilh. Wilhemsen Holding, a global maritime industry group, and NorSea Group have also taken an ownership stake in Loke.
“We are pleased to partner with Loke in the development of this important resource,” said Jonathan Landes, president, subsea, at TechnipFMC. “Our culture of collaboration, integration, and innovation, along with our expertise in subsea robotics and extensive history on the NCS, can help meet the rising demand for new technologies and resources that are driving the energy transition.”
Surging demand for cleaner energy solutions has made deepsea mining for minerals used in batteries a point of interest for some energy companies. The International Seabed Authority, or ISA, is close to completing the exploitation regulations that would allow industry to begin collecting metals from the deep ocean. The process is not without its opponents, however, because of the relative unknown nature of the practice and what detriment it may hold for the environment.
One of the bounties available to explorers comes in the form of polymetallic nodules. The nodules, which can grow to around 8 in. and have been likened to potatoes, contain a cocktail of valuable metals including cobalt, nickel, copper, and manganese. All of these are used in electric vehicle batteries.
Beyond the NCS, a remote part of the Pacific Ocean known as the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ) is said to hold a robust volume of the nodules.
The zone has been divided into 16 mining claims spanning approximately 1,000,000
km2. A further nine areas, each covering 160,000 km2, have been set aside for conservation. The ISA estimates that the total amount of nodules in the CCZ exceeds 21 billion tons.
Last month, Canada-based The Metals Company, launched an expedition to retrieve, recalibrate, and redeploy three mooring installations in the CCZ. The data collected from the instruments installed on the moorings provide insights as to the physical characteristics of the water column and inform a model developed to predict how deep-sea sediments disturbed by nodule collection operations will disperse and settle.
Another expedition in a separate section of the CCZ is testing a small-scale bottom-crawling harvester called the Patania II and operated by Global Sea Mineral Resource, a subsidiary of the Belgian dredging firm DEME Group. The harvester moves along the seafloor and scoops up the mineral nodules. It is powered by a 3-mile-long umbilical attached to a surface vessel.