Offshore Contractor Enters Seafloor Mining Industry


Published Mar 7, 2020 8:40 PM by The Maritime Executive

Offshore contractor Allseas has acquired the former ultra-deepwater drill ship Vitoria 10000 for conversion to a polymetallic nodule collection vessel to be used in seafloor mining operations. 

In partnership with DeepGreen Metals, Allseas is developing a mineral collection system for the 228-meter vessel. The nodules to be collected contain high grades of nickel, manganese, copper and cobalt - metals used in, for example, the construction of electric vehicle batteries.

As a former drill ship, Allseas says her configuration is well-suited for modifications that will enable the deployment at sea of the 4.5 kilometer-long riser currently being developed. Allseas expects the vessel to be operational for pilot nodule collection tests by mid 2021.

After the nodules have been collected and taken to shore they will be processed using a metallurgical flowsheet developed by DeepGreen. DeepGreen Chairman and CEO Gerard Barron, said: “The green transition is going to require hundreds of millions of tonnes of nickel, copper and cobalt, and our research shows that ocean polymetallic nodules could provide society with these critical minerals at a fraction of the environmental and social impacts associated with land-based extraction.”

DeepGreen and a team of scientists are currently undertaking the world’s largest integrated ocean surface-to-seabed research program to understand the impact of collecting nodules from the ocean floor. In addition to generating new scientific knowledge of the Pacific Ocean, insights generated from this research will enable Allseas to design technology solutions that minimize environmental impact of nodule collection operations.

Exploration of the seafloor in international waters is administered by the International Seabed Authority (ISA) as mandated by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). In July 2011, DeepGreen through its wholly owned subsidiary Nauru Ocean Resources Inc. (NORI) was granted a 15-year exploration contract for the NORI Project with a combined area of 74,830 square kilometers in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone.

DeepGreen has successfully derived an alloy of base metals from polymetallic nodules found on the deep ocean floor. Using nodules obtained from a recent expedition to the Clarion-Clipperton Zone, DeepGreen and its onshore partner, Kingston Process Metallurgy, replicated calcination and smelting processes that were initially developed in the 1970s and obtained an iron-rich alloy nugget containing high recoveries of the pay metals nickel, copper and cobalt. A manganese silicate product, attractive as feed for the manganese-alloy industry, was also produced. The company is doing further test work and engineering that will lead to a pilot plant project next year to demonstrate the metallurgical flowsheet at scale to produce nickel and cobalt sulfate and copper cathode products with zero solid waste.