Originally published on Forbes, by James Conca
It certainly looks like it. From almost any perspective, seabed mining of metals is better for the environment, social justice issues and economics.
A large continuous supply of special economic metals is essential for any high tech future. Building electric vehicles and wind turbines take a lot of resources, more than we can provide now, particularly special metals like Co, Li, Te and Nd, as well as just base metals like Fe, Cu, Pb and Zn and other materials like graphite.
But their supply is generally an environmental and social nightmare. The waste from Li, graphite and high-purity-Si processing has destroyed whole villages in ecosystems in China, Indonesia and Bolivia, among others. America is still dealing with the acid mine drainage left from 120 years of mining. And like blood diamonds, half of the Co supplies come from inhumane child labor practices.
The reason this is so important is that many of the people who support the new energy technological revolution of non-fossil fuels and renewables, electric vehicles, conservation and efficiency, also care about the social issues that many of these technologies incorporate in their wake – corruption, environmental pollution, extreme poverty and child labor.
Not the image sought by people at the shade-grown coffee shop surfing the internet for free-range eggs on their iPhones.
Just the carbon intensity alone of producing these metals has led to growing interest in low-carbon metal sources. Last year, Elon Musk promised “a giant contract” for nickel mined “efficiently and in an environmentally sensitive way.” And it has already sparked some significant changes.