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New technologies and devices are being developed to increase comfort and standard of living of humans. New frontiers of technological development require new metals and materials. Mankind has derived almost all metals and materials from the terrestrial mines. The capacity of terrestrial mines is limited and cannot satisfy future demand. The marine crust remains unexplored and has abundant reserves of metals and materials. Marine mining is a new avenue to fulfill the increasing needs of humanity.
Deep-Sea Mining is a relatively unconventional method of extracting elements. Deep-sea mining has already been undertaken through projects such as deep-sea diamond mining. Mining for Rare Earth Elements (REEs) has not been attempted because of environmental issues and cost. These issues are much more complicated and not as easily fixed as other concerns.
Key Market Driver -
Key Market Driver – Increase in demand for REEs
Key Market Restraint -
Key Market Restraint – High infrastructure and operating cost
Deep-Sea mining would be an effective way to obtain a large number of rare earth; in one specific section of the ocean floor. One study shows that one square kilometer of seabed mining could meet a fifth of the world's annual consumption of rare metals and yttrium. Suitable sites must be found to implement deep-sea mining. Deep-sea remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) or autonomous vehicles are used to obtain samples using drills and other cutting tools to analyze their minerals. With the location of a suitable mining site, the ocean floor is ready to be harvested.
Hydrothermal vents have primary reserves for deep-sea mines. The magma below these vents heats the surrounding seawater, which causes metals within the sediment to leach into the water. The subsequent shock of the cold water causes the minerals to precipitate and form as solids in the sediment surrounding the vents.
Because of these high concentrations, most deep-sea mining would occur in the chimneys above the vents. Vents themselves would be preserved undamaged, but the chimneys would be destroyed. These chimneys, however, can be built back over time and is the equivalent of "cutting grass" on the ocean floor.
Based on the element, the marine mining market is divided into polymetallic nodules, polymetallic sulfides, cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts, and others. For polymetallic nodules, the entitled exploration area allocated to each contractor is 75,000 square kilometers. For polymetallic sulfides, the entitled exploration area allocated to each contractor is 10,000 square kilometers and consists of 100 blocks. Each block is no greater than 100 square kilometers.
For cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts, the entitled exploration area allocated to each contractor is 3,000 square kilometers and consists of 150 blocks. Each block is no greater than 20 square kilometers. Based on technology, marine mining market is segmented in the Continuous Line Bucket System (CLB) and Hydraulic suction systems.
CLB is the preferred method and transfers the mud up to the ship in a conveyor belt type system. Hydraulic suction has a pipe running the mud up from the ocean floor and another pipe that transfers the tailings back to the ocean floor.
The major market driver for the global marine mining market is the increasing demand for rare earth elements in the world. With increasing miniaturization of electronic devices and equipment, the demand for rare earth is bound to increase. The key market restraint for the global Marine Mining market is the high cost of infrastructure setup required for marine mining and high operating cost.
Some of the major companies that are present in the marine mining market are De Beers Group, China Minmetals Corporation, Seabed Minerals Authority, UK Seabed Resources Ltd, Ocean Mineral Singapore Pte Ltd., Global Sea Mineral Resources NV, Marawa Research and Exploration Ltd., Tonga Offshore Mining Limited, Nauru Ocean Resources Inc., Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources of Germany, Institut français de recherche pour l'exploitation de la mer, Deep Ocean Resources Development Co. Ltd., China Ocean Mineral Resources Research and Development Association, JSC Yuzhmorgeologiya, Interoceanmetal Joint Organization, Companhia De Pesquisa de Recursos Minerais, Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC), and China Ocean Mineral Resources Research and Development Association (COMRA).
The global marine mining is divided geographically in North America, Europe, Asia, Latin America, and Middle-East & Africa. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) outlines the areas of national jurisdiction as a twelve-nautical-mile territorial sea; an exclusive economic zone of up to 200 nautical miles and a continental shelf. The international seabed area - the part under ISA jurisdiction - is defined as “the seabed and ocean floor and the subsoil thereof, beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.
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The International Seabed Authority has entered into 15-year contracts with twenty-seven contractors for exploration for polymetallic nodules, polymetallic sulfides and cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts in the international seabed area. The areas being explored are in the Clarion Clipperton Fracture Zone, the Indian Ocean, Mid Atlantic Ridge, South Atlantic Ocean, and the Pacific Ocean. China has the most number of license for seabed mining followed by the United Kingdom. Countries like India, Germany, U.S., Russia, Japan, France, Singapore, etc. have the license for international seabed mining.
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