Energy transition feasible without deep-sea mining

[Translate to English:] Elektromobilität braucht keine Metalle aus der Tiefsee

A successful energy and mobility transition does not depend on raw materials from deep-sea mining. This is the conclusion drawn in a new study by the Oeko-Institut on behalf of Greenpeace. The mining of polymetallic nodules from the deep sea may be able to supply copper, cobalt, nickel, manganese and possibly also molybdenum. However, only three of these raw materials – cobalt, nickel and manganese – could be supplied in volumes relevant for the world market.

Deep-sea mining cannot offer a solution for lithium and graphite, which are the two most important battery raw materials. The study refutes the assumption that only deep-sea mining is able to meet future demand for raw materials for lithium-ion battery production. While cobalt and nickel – metals which are found in deep-sea deposits – are supply-critical materials for Li-ion batteries, a shift towards other inputs and raw materials can already be observed.

Lithium-ion batteries: current trends

The world market share of Li-ion batteries which are completely free from cobalt and nickel has noticeably increased in recent years – and this trend will very likely continue in the next few years due to rapidly advancing battery research. Furthermore, raw materials from deep-sea mining would not be available until at least 2030.

As Li-Ion batteries currently account for less than 1% of the world’s manganese consumption, even a strong increase in demand for batteries is unlikely to cause any market disruption, i.e. an imbalance between supply and demand.

“A decision against deep-sea mining will therefore not put the energy and mobility transition at risk,” says Andreas Manhart, a senior researcher at the Oeko-Institut and one of the authors of the study.

Impacts of deep-sea mining still unknown

On the contrary, an argument against deep-sea mining is that its potential impacts are manifold and still incompletely understood and that vast amounts of seabed surface would have to be converted for comparably small raw material outputs. At present, the deep ocean floor is one of the most intact ecosystems on the planet. It is uncertain how deep-sea mining will affect this area and whether it would significantly impact global carbon cycles.

A circular economy: easing the strain

Furthermore – in line with the concept of a circular economy – a more holistic approach to the issue of raw materials is required. Longer product lifetimes, alternative mobility strategies and second- and third-life for batteries can clearly do much to ease demand for raw materials. Likewise, more work must be done to develop battery take-back systems for high-quality recycling.

Study „The rush for metals in the deep sea – Considerations on Deep-Sea Mining “ by the Oeko-Institut