Land VS Ocean: scientists point to ocean replacing damaging BEV materials

A group of climate focused scientists are calling for an end to mining for BEV powertrain raw materials citing irreversible damage to the environment, reports TU Automotive.

The coalition of experts have now released the findings of a year-long study into the impacts of sourcing metals to produce battery cathodes and wiring for BEVs urging the industry to turn its attention to exploiting the earth’s oceans as a viable alternative. The study, commissioned and funded by ocean exploration company DeepGreen, is calling for a wholesale move away from fossil fuels to be replaced by technology with the least amount of damage to the planet.

It points out that the headlong dash towards BEVs using material mined from the land is not a suitable replacement for fossil fuels claiming that the use of polymetallic nodules collected from the deep seafloor of the Pacific Ocean better for the environment by far. Using a lifecycle sustainability analysis (LCSA) framework and standard lifecycle analysis (LCA) methodology, researchers compared two potential sources of minerals needed to manufacture electric vehicle batteries: ores mined from the land and polymetallic nodules collected from the deep seafloor of the Pacific Ocean.

The study claims this alternative source of raw materials for battery production would deliver:

  • 70% less CO2e direct emissions
  • 94% less stored carbon at risk
  • 90% reduction in SOx and NOx emissions
  • 100% reduction in solid waste
  • 94% less land use
  • 93% less wildlife at risk

The study says polymetallic nodules are made of almost 100% usable minerals and contain no toxic levels of deleterious elements, compared to ores mined from the land which have increasingly low yields (often below 1%) and often do contain toxic levels of deleterious elements. This means that producing metals from nodules has the potential to generate almost zero solid waste and no toxic tailings, as opposed to terrestrial mining processes which produce billions of tonnes of waste and can leak deadly toxins into soil and water resources. One of the whitepaper’s lead researchers, marine biologist and ecologist Dr Steven Katona, said of the findings: “Over the last five years there has been heightened awareness of the environmental, social and economic impacts of producing metals from land ores. We essentially built on existing lifecycle assessment indicators work for land-based mining and created an apples-to-apples comparison for battery material production from ocean nodules. This unique comparative LCSA enables auto manufacturers, technology companies and policy makers to understand how these different sources of key base metals measure up against each other with regards to their impacts.”

DeepGreen says the switch away from land mining is now urgent in light of the burgeoning demand for certain BEV battery metals and projected to increase by 11 times the current level by 2050, according to the World Bank, while shortages in nickel, cobalt and copper have been predicted to emerge as soon as 2025.

Gerard Barron, DeepGreen chairman and CEO, said: “We believe that polymetallic nodules are an important part of the solution. They contain high concentrations of nickel, cobalt and manganese – they’re effectively an EV battery in a rock. Ocean nodules are a unique resource to consider at a time when society urgently needs a good solution for supplying new virgin metals for the green transition. Extraction of virgin metals, from any source, is by definition not sustainable and generates environmental damage. It’s our responsibility to understand the benefits as well as the damages associated with sourcing base metals from nodules.”

The study has produced a white paper entitled Where Should Metals for the Green Transition Come From?


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