Flanders Metals Valley Member
Global Sea Mineral Resources NV – GSR
Polymetallic nodules in the Pacific Ocean contain more nickel, cobalt, manganese and molybdenum than all land-based reserves combined.
Several EU countries hold exploration contracts in the Pacific Ocean, which could be developed for the benefit for Europe. The International Seabed Authority is in the final stretch to adopt a regulatory framework to allow exploitation of these nodules.
GSR is committed to responsible extraction and believes in the potential of these nodules for the energy transition.
DEME – short for dredging, environmental, and marine engineering – has been focusing on operations in, on and close on the water since the 19th century, when its ancestor was founded. From a company oriented mainly on dredging, it has diversified to other related activities, namely in the field of renewables, environmental works and building material mining and recycling. Its offshore wind installation expertise, which started in 2008 with the installation of six 5MW wind turbines on the Thornton Bank off the Belgian Coast, has since evolved to gigawatt-scale projects all around the globe. Similar diversification projects are in the pipeline for green hydrogen and for green energy metals, sourced from polymetallic nodules.
On 14 January 2013, the International Seabed Authority, the body of the United Nations that governs the seabed beyond territorial waters, granted GSR a 15 year contract for exploration of polymetallic nodules. Under the contract, GSR holds the exclusive rights for exploration for polymetallic nodules over 75,000 km² of the seabed in the eastern part of the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone (CCFZ) of the central-east Pacific Ocean. The GSR contract area is located between 122°W and 128°W longitude and between 13°N and 16°N latitude and an average water depth of about 4,500m.
Since 2013, GSR has pursued a technology development roadmap, in parallel with the resource mapping of the exploration area and the establishment of an environmental baseline study. It has embarked on five expeditions for resource mapping, environmental studies and technology testing in the Clarion Clipperton Zone, with more scheduled to come. Through a collaboration with research institutions and universities, namely Ghent University, an extensive environmental impact assessment and studies of the benthic ecosystems in the Clarion Clipperton Zone were conducted. This collaboration culminated in a provisional climax in 2021, when the vessels Normand Energy and Island Pride departed on a combined expedition. Operated from the ‘Normand Energy’, the trial vehicle “Patania II” collected nodules, and tested maneuverability, propulsion and nodule pickup on the Pacific ocean floor. Meanwhile, scientists, environmental engineers and researchers mapped the environmental impact and sediment plume distribution from the ‘Island Pride’.
Once on land, the nodules need conversion to useable metals. Due to their specific composition, existing metallurgical plants cannot accept nodules in their process, although similarities exist with namely nickel laterites. Together with a partner, GSR has developed a processing flowsheet for sustainable, environmental-friendly processing of nodules. Although deep-seabed mining certainly won’t replace land-based mining entirely, according to peer-reviewed scientific literature, the mining and processing of the nodule-based metals could be delivered with a 40% reduction of the carbon footprint, when comparing to a basket of similar metals obtained from terrestrial mining.
On 10 February 2023, GSR entered in a Joint Venture agreement with Transocean, a global leader in the offshore drilling industry. As part of its investment, Transocean is contributing the vessel ‘Ocean Rig Olympia’ for GSR’s ongoing exploration work, a cash investment and engineering capacity. Following the successful trial of GSR’s pre-prototype seafloor nodule collector in 2021 at 4500m water depth, a key task ahead for GSR is a system integration test (“SIT”), scheduled for 2025. The SIT – for which the converted ultra-deepwater vessel shall be instrumental – will entail a trial of a full-scale seafloor nodule collector and riser to lift the nodules to the surface vessel and is part of GSR’s step by step and precautionary approach to project and technology development as the company explores the feasibility of commercial operations.