Mineral resources are a key factor of successful economies and societal progress. In order to minimise supply risks for import dependent countries such as Germany, access to such resources need to be ensured. It is well known that high-technology metals such as indium, germanium, rare earth elements and cobalt, which are crucial for future technologies such as renewable energy and electric mobility, are enriched in rocks in the deep oceans.
The Blue Mining project addresses all aspects of the value chain in the field of deep-sea mining, from resource discovery to reserves assessment and from exploitation technologies to the legal and regulatory framework. An international European consortium of 19 enterprises and research organisations out of various maritime fields of expertise is jointly investigating sustainable blue mining solutions. Our research focuses on two types of deep sea resources: Manganese nodules and massive sulphides.
Manganese nodules occur in deep-sea areas between depths of 3,500 and 6,500 m, mainly in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. They are formed by an ultra-slow (millions of years) metal concentration process from seawater and seafloor sediment. Vast areas of ocean floor are covered by those metal-bearing nodules which have about the size of potatoes. They contain primarily manganese, but also nickel, cobalt, copper and rare-earth elements. Massive sulphides are metal concentrations which form at seafloor spreading centers and so-called black smokers in the deep oceans worldwide. Research in the last decades, also at RWTH, has unraveled remarkable metal distributions and grades and has tested initial extraction concepts.
Economic feasibility is a key aspect in any mining project and the task of the MRE. Therefore, the explored deep-sea mineral resources, the mining plans and concepts and the technological developments of the Blue Mining project are analysed against economic feasibility. In addition to common approaches for the economic evaluation of mining projects, sustainability aspects such as primary resource efficiency are also taken into account. Furthermore, fiscal incentives for the stimulation of a more sustainable economic evaluation are developed. The latter contributes to a more sustainable management of deep sea mineral resources.