Norway’s government is readying plans to open an area of ocean nearly the size of Germany to deep-sea mining as it seeks to become the first country to extract battery metals from its sea floor. The country’s energy ministry is racing to submit to parliament in the next two weeks a proposal to open the vast area to applications for exploration and extraction. The plan would then face a parliamentary vote in autumn.
Volcanic springs up to 4,000m deep that surge from the Earth’s crust on faultlines between tectonic plates in the proposed area contain an estimated 38mn tonnes of copper, more than is mined around the world each year.
The fluid that emerges from hydrothermal vents such as those in Norway’s waters also contains other metals used in electric car batteries, including cobalt. Metallic seabed crusts can meanwhile be mined for rare earth metals such as neodymium and dysprosium. These are used to make the magnets in wind turbines and in the engines of electric vehicles, but their supply chain is largely controlled by China.
Norwegian prime minister Jonas Gahr Støre, currently co-chair of the Ocean Panel network of world leaders committed to protecting the oceans, told a local newspaper in March that deep-sea mining could be done without harming biodiversity.
Miners operating in other countries including China, Papua New Guinea, the Cook Islands, Japan and New Zealand have been exploring how to extract metals from coastal waters. The UN-backed regulator overseeing bids to mine international waters, primarily in the Pacific, is expected to reach a crunch point in negotiations next month.