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Japan Discovers Over 200 Million Tonnes of Battery Metals in Seabed

Japan Found Massive Deposit of Essential Metals Near Remote Island

by Ikeoluwa Ogungbangbe

Japanese researchers have found over 200 million tonnes of manganese nodules on the Pacific Ocean floor, within Japan’s exclusive economic zone. These nodules contain essential battery metals such as cobalt, nickel, copper, and manganese. They are spread across a large area near Minamitorishima, an isolated Tokyo Island, at depths of around 5,500 meters.

This discovery, similar to the polymetallic nodules found in the Clarion-Clipperton zone, is considered very important. A report from the Japan Times states that the deposit could provide 610,000 tonnes of cobalt, which is enough to supply Japan for 75 years, and 740,000 tonnes of nickel, covering 11 years of the nation’s needs.

The University of Tokyo and the Nippon Foundation led the research and plan to start large-scale extraction of the nodules next year. The extracted materials will be supplied to Japanese companies. By 2026, a joint venture involving multiple Japanese firms aims to develop these minerals as locally sourced materials, promoting a more sustainable and self-reliant resource base.

However, there are challenges due to the depth of these nodules, as noted by BMO analyst Colin Hamilton. He emphasized that the extraction process will not be simple, citing the complexity of deep-sea mining. This venture is viewed as a potential test case for evaluating the benefits against the drawbacks of such mining activities, especially with the global shift from fossil fuels to battery-powered technologies.

Despite the promising prospects, the extraction of deep-sea minerals has sparked controversy. Several major metals consumers have reservations about purchasing deep-sea-sourced materials, pending further studies on the environmental impact of mining operations. Additionally, major global banks, including Credit Suisse, Lloyds, NatWest, Standard Chartered, ABN Amro, and Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, have policies that prevent funding for deep-sea exploration and extraction initiatives.

The demand for metals like nickel and cobalt is expected to increase substantially in the coming decades. A White House paper estimates a 400% to 600% rise in demand as the world transitions from oil and gas to battery-powered systems. In response to this growing need, The Metals Company has announced the production of the world’s first cobalt sulfate derived exclusively from seafloor polymetallic nodules.

The International Seabed Authority (ISA) is currently working on drafting the world’s first regulations for underwater mining, with completion expected by 2025. Even without formal regulations, deep-sea mining operations could technically begin as early as next month, aligning with the ISA’s upcoming meeting.

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