As demand for certain metals rises with the electrification of vehicles, interest is rising in undersea mining. Impossible Metals Inc. today revealed its roadmap for sustainable harvesting of polymetallic nodules from the seabed with automated systems.
“In 2022, our Eureka-1 demonstrated the concepts of selective harvesting, and in less than 12 months, we will prove this technology at depth on a nodule field in the ocean,” said Oliver Gunasekara, co-founder and CEO of Impossible Metals. “Combined with the significant lower cost, environmental benefits, and scalability to 10 million tons per year or more, this will deliver the best available technology for seabed mining.”
By “best available technology,” Gunasekara referred to terminology in draft environmental and social governance (ESG) regulations for seabed mining issued by the International Seabed Authority (ISA), the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), and the Seabed Minerals Authority (SBMA) for Cook Islands.
Impossible Metals develops AUVs for mining
Impossible Metals, which has offices in Pasadena, Calif., and Collingwood, Ontario, builds autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) to harvest crticial metals from the seabed.
Impossible Metals said “Eureka 1” is the first AUV for selective harvesting. It uses advanced robotics, artificial intelligence, and a patent-pending buoyancy engine to glide above the seabed and accurately identify nodules.
The company said it will minimize disruption to habitat function and native biodiversity. These same AUVs will transport the collected nodules to the surface without discharge sediment plumes.
Based on the success of the deep-water test Version 4 AUV, Impossible Metals plans to build a full-size AUV (v5) with a payload of one shipping container. It will then deploy an initial fleet of six AUVs in 2026, subject to the issuance of exploration permits.
Mining AUV product roadmap. Click on image to enlarge. Source: Impossible Metals
Sustainability a challenge and a commitment
The company said it uses novel bacterial respiration technology for metal refining rather than hydrometallurgy or pyrometallurgy techniques, which result in high energy costs or acid tailings.
The combination of environmentally sustainable harvesting with biological refinement is “pivotal” to the development of green technologies including electric vehicles, claimed Impossible Metals. The company said it is committed to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
“To meet NetZero targets by 2050, we need 600% more metal mining, resulting in hundreds of new terrestrial mines with massive ESG impacts,” it stated. “The Impossible Metals approach will have the lowest impact—reducing the need for new terrestrial mines.”
Renee Grogan, co-founder and chief sustainability officer of Impossible Metals, added: “Our first ESG and annual report has been published to provide transparency to our stakeholders and share our progress towards achieving our public benefit corporation objectives.”
Impossible Metals' 2022 ESG and annual report. Click on image to enlarge. Source: Impossible Metals
6K Energy intends to be a customer
Impossible Metals also announced that 6K Energy has signed a letter of intent (LOI) to purchase battery metals selectively harvested from the deep seabed. The partners said they will jointly study the use of these metals in the 6K Energy UniMelt plasma process to qualify another supply of domestic feedstocks to meet long-term goals of full independence from foreign sources.
“6K Energy is hyper-focused on enabling a long-term, economically viable, domestic battery material industry by delivering low-cost cathode produced with an ultra-low ESG footprint,” said Thanh Nguyen, senior vice president of deployment at 6K Energy.
“Impossible Metals is leading the charge to create new options for companies like 6K Energy to source ethically mined alternatives to traditional supply approaches,” he said.
Email Sign Up
Get news, papers, media and research delivered
Stay up-to-date with news and resources you need to do your job.
Research industry trends, compare companies and get market intelligence every week with Robotics 24/7.
Subscribe to our robotics user email newsletter and we'll keep you informed and up-to-date.