There’s a very special type of rock at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean that could be the key to millions of future electric vehicles.
Researchers on the Maersk Launcher, which is currently docked in San Diego Bay, are looking for the best and safest way to bring it to the surface.
“We’re trying to better understand the environment at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean where there is a very large, abundant supply of these polymetallic nodules,” said Gerard Barron holding what looks like a lumpy black rock.
However, the CEO and chairman of Vancouver-based the Metals Company said, the black lump is an electric vehicle battery in a rock and there could be trillions of them on the ocean floor about 1,100 miles off the coast of San Diego. The company estimated there is enough for a billion electric vehicles.
“They literally just lie there like golf balls on a driving range,” Barron said with a smile.
Barron’s company has exclusive access to the area known as the Clarion Clipperton Zone, where the rocks have been found.
“The great thing about them is that they contain everything we need to build electric vehicle batteries,” Barron said.
Each rock contains metals like nickel, cobalt and copper. Barron said mining those elements now is devastating for the environment.
“Historically, when we think about metals, it involves some pretty nasty practices,” Barron said. “You don’t have to drill or dig or blast to get to [the polymetallic nodules]. These rocks are literally lying on the ocean floor.”
That’s why the crew on board the Maersk Launcher is about to take its fifth trip to the Clarion Clipperton Zone to study the best way to remove the rocks and what impacts that might have on the ocean environment. Barron said the current process of mining those metals burns fossil fuels, uses an incredible amount of energy, destroys the environment and produces billions of tons of waste.
“What we have to do is to understand how we can collect them with the lightest impact,” deep-sea ecologist Andrew Sweetman said.
“Everyone says the future is green, but actually a green future is metallic,” added Barron. “And Mother Nature was very kind to put a very high concentration of these rocks in one little area.”
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The Metals Company’s mission is to be as green as possible while removing the metals. Barron said their process would produce zero solid waste and 90% less carbon dioxide compared with conventional mining.
Barron said they have been working and researching this process since 2011. The company hopes to bring the rocks to the surface and put them to use as early as 2024.