Marine minerals role in the green shift


Seabed Solutions AS

Written by andreas svanlund

26. April 2022



Regardless of political standing, we all have the same goal. We want our children to grow up in freedom on a planet that still blossoms.

To meet this goal, political leaders from more than 40 countries and EU, have committed themselves to being net-zero by 2050.

The most important tools to achieve the climate goals are electrical vehicles, wind turbines, solar panels and electricity distribution lines.

Seabed Solutions AS
Seabed Solutions AS

There is a looming mismatch between the world’s climate ambitions and the availability of critical minerals that are essential to realising those ambitions

Dr Faith Birol

IEA Executive Director


Minerals in clean technologies

Electrical vehichles, windturbines, solar panels, batteries and distribution networks are crucial components in a sustainable energy system and to avoid severe consequences from a changing climate.

A sustainable energy system means an increased need for the minerals that goes into these technologies.

  • Lithium, nickel, cobalt, manganese and graphite, all essential for battery performance, battery life and energy density.
  • The rare earth elements that go into permanent magnets are essential for wind turbines and electric vehicles. Without these, it will not be possible to make a single satellite, missile or fighter jet.
  • Solar panels are not particularly mineral intensive in themselves, but due to the enormous volume we need to meet the climate goals, this means increased demand for silicon, silver and copper.
  • And let’s not forget the infrastructure of a cleaner and more electrified energy system. Copper is a cornerstone of all electricity-related technology, and the expansion of electricity networks entails an enormous demand for copper and aluminum.
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A huge challenge

The technologies required in the technologies necassary to avoid severe environmental consequences are far more mineral intensive than fossil based technolgies.

An electrical car requires six times the mineral input of a convensional vehicle, and an offshore windfarm requires 13 times more minerals, than an equally sized offshore windfarm.

The safety and freedom of future generations depend on sufficient mineral supply.

Minerals required to meet the climate goals

When IEA conducted their mineral study, the first question they asked was: How fast will the demand for minerals rise?

After a detailed evaluation of several different scenarios, and elleven different technology development directions, IEA concluded that a combined effort to achieve net-zero by 2050 will at least require six times more minerals than we are able to extract from existing mines today.

For minerals crucial in the essentital clean-ernergy-tools the future demand will be far greater.

In order to meet the political commitments from the Paris agreement, the demand for minerals such as lithium will be 42 times higher in 2040 than  current production.

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Net-Zero 2050 spikes the demand further

In order to  meet the political commitments from EU and 40 other countries to become net-zero by 2050, the demand for lithium will be 75 times higher in 2040 than today. The same increase will apply for the other minerals listed above. 

Demand vs Supply

The IEA has looked closely at current production capacity, and new projects under construction. Their conclusion is that supply will not be able to meet demand, and the world will not be able to resond adequately in the combat on climate challenges.

Already inn 2030 the estimated demand for lithium will be twice the production, and over the next 20 years we will have to extract the same amount of copper as we’ve done for the last 5000 years.

Seabed Solutions AS
Seabed Solutions AS
Seabed Solutions AS

The planet has the resources required

90% of the planets volcanic activity take place along the volcanic spreading ridges in the deep sea. These global spreading ridges extend over 67,000 kilometers. This is an extent equivalent to one and a half times around equator. 

Hydro thermal vents on the seabed are mineral factories, and hydro thermal circulation provides huge and highly concentrated mineral deposits in the area surrounding such vents.

Along the volcanic spreading ridges there are enough minerals for for several green shifts. 

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Less environmental footprint

To mine minerals from 2000 – 4000 meters depth several technological challenges has to be solved. But if these challenges are solved, the environmental upside is huge.

The mineral ores we mine on land was once a part of a much more larger deposit on the seafloor, but due to millions of years with continental movements have crushed, squeezed and formed the once massive deposit into thin mineral ores. This makes mining on land area consuming.

If the industry solves the deep water challenges the potential environmental upside will be huge. Not only will the world have sufficient supply to meet the challenges of a changing climate, but the extraction of the critical minerals required will have a less of an environmental impact, since the area required to extract the minerals are far smaller.

A typical deep sea mine is estimated to have the size of one or two soccerfields.

Life in the deep sea

Even at 2000-4000 meters there is life. The hot water around the active hydro thermal vents there is home to a wide range of fascinating organisms.

Due to the harsh environment, the organisms on one hydrothermal vent has never communicated with the organisms from other vents. This makes the life on each site highly unique.

These robust orgamisms are probably the closest we come life as it was on the planet in its origin.

And maybe, if a monster virus break loose on the surface, it could be here, among the robust creatures on seabed a vaccine could be found.

It’s therefor vital to protect the unique life in these concentrated areas.

The spreading ridges are constanly moving and the hydrothermal vents are only active for a period before they die.

Deep sea mineral extraction
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Old, cold and collapsed

Currently active areas account for about 1% of the deep sea. The water around active hydrothermal vent are very hot, with tempratures up to 400 degrees Celsius. Mining in these areas has never been something the industry has considered.

The areas that could be interesting to mine, are the areas of old, cold and collapsed hydrothermal vents.

The life in these areas are limited to bacterias and microbes which is not unique to the location.

Future deep sea mining operations will be executed with surgical precision, and impact on the environment will be low. 


Don’t let the situation define the outcome

Armed with electrical vehicles, batteries, wind turbines, solar panels and distributions lines politcal leaders from all over the world has taken on the quest to combat climate change. 

A future powered by clean energy is possible. The technologies are available and the resources exists. 

You can call me a dreamer, but I believe every problem comes with the necassary means to overcome it. 

When you start acting, and stop letting the situation define the outcome, good things tend to happen. 


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