Mining the ocean floor for valuable mineral resources is not particularly new. Mineral resources from sand and gravel deposits to diamonds have been harvested for some time. A rich and checkered history is behind today’s large-scale aspirations in this area.
It has been known for decades that vast mineral-rich deposits on the seafloor often exceed the ore quality of commercially exploited terrestrial sources. The primary problem has always been a matter of economics, but also of politics and national security.
Can these subsea deposits be recovered, shipped, and processed more cheaply than those from large commercial operations on land? To date, the answer has been no.
In the 1970s a few international consortia were organized to exploit seafloor resources, primarily manganese nodules. These ubiquitous potato-shaped lumps are rich in copper, cobalt, and nickel. Found on the seafloor at depths up to 16,000 feet, their recovery offered many challenges to would-be aqua-miners.