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The Metals Company Success: Deep-Water Collector Vehicle Tested at Depth of Almost 2,500 Meters

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The Metals Company announced along with Allseas the successful results of a deep-water test of its polymetallic nodule collector vehicle in the Atlantic Ocean. The vehicle was tested at a depth of almost 2,500 meters.

You may remember my previous articles about The Metals Company, and my two interviews with CEO Gerard Barron. I’ve been following the progress of The Metals Company since before they changed their name from Deep Green. To recap, I’ll briefly share what their focus is.

The Metals Company is focused on polymetallic nodules on the seafloor. These little mineral balls are filled with critical metals used in the production of electric vehicles — primarily batteries. In my interview with Gerard, he shared why the focus was on the nodules.

“We’re only impacting the top 5 cm of the ocean floor. The way I like to frame it is that if we took a step back and took a planetary perspective and if we had our time again, it would make sense to carry out extractive industry in parts of the planet where there’s the least life. We wouldn’t naturally go to our biodiverse rainforests where there’s a lot of biomass and which serve as huge carbon sinks. We’d go to the deserts, and that’s where we are. We’re in the biggest desert on the planet, which just happens to be under 4,000 meters of water.

“If we measure life in the form of biomass, there are around 13 grams of biomass per square meter. Most of that is bacteria living in the sediment. Let’s compare that with Indonesia, where most of our future nickel is coming from. As you know, car batteries have a lot of nickel in the cathodes, and while they’ve been able to engineer out cobalt, it’s not so good with nickel because of the energy density it delivers. And so, there are more than 20,000 grams of biomass in the Indonesian rainforests where we mine the nickel from now. With that perspective, I just think it makes sense to do this in the most sparsely populated area on the planet.”

You can read the full interview here.

Allseas and The Metals Company have been working closely together to develop this pilot system since 2019. Allseas designed and constructed the pilot nodule collector vehicle, which was deployed and lowered to the seafloor at depths of 2,470 meters. This, the company noted, marked the first time that the vehicle has experienced extreme deep-water temperatures and pressures.

The company added that a range of critical functions was successfully tested while driving over one kilometer on the seafloor. The Metals Company also conducted extensive testing of its various pumps and critical mobility function. In total, the robot drove 1,018 meters across the seafloor.

This confirmed the robot’s ability to operate in both pressure and temperature conditions that are similar to those in the areas it will collect nodules from an area of the Clarion Clipperton Zone of the Pacific Ocean which is owned by the company’s wholly-owned subsidiary, Nauru Ocean Resources Inc. (NORI).

The company stated that all of the trials to date are preparing for the full pilot nodule collection system trials that will take place later this year over an 8 km2 section of the NORI-D contract area.

In the press release, The Metals Company stated:

“The trials are an integral part of the International Seabed Authority’s regulatory and permitting process and the environmental impact data collected both during and after this nodule collection test work will form the basis of the application for an exploitation contract by TMC’s wholly-owned subsidiary, Nauru Ocean Resources Inc. (NORI).”

The Metals Company expects to conduct more trials in the NORI-D contract area, which will include the deployment of a four-kilometer-long riser that provides power and control during seafloor operations. It also plans to deploy a 500-meter-long flexible jumper hose to connect the riser to the collector vehicle.

Gerard Barron shared a statement about the successful testing of the deep-water collector vehicle:

“The pilot nodule collection system is so far performing beautifully throughout these trials and getting the collector vehicle into the deep water in the Atlantic has given the team the opportunity to really pressure-test critical components.

“I continue to be astounded by the planning and preparedness of Allseas engineers who are moving right along into wet-test commissioning and trial deployment of the riser system.”

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