Metals for batteries.
We’re scaling nodule collecting and onshore processing systems to supply lower-impact metals to the global electric vehicle industry.
The most important metal by mass in the batteries used by electric vehicle (EV) manufacturers, nickel sulfate delivers higher energy density than other cathode chemistries. It allows for greater storage capacity and improves EV range, increasing times between charges.
EV manufacturers are moving towards increasingly nickel-rich chemistries. As more nations mandate a phaseout of gasoline-powered cars in favor of electric ones, the world will see a dramatic increase in demand for battery-grade nickel, much of which is sourced from beneath carbon-rich rainforest regions in Indonesia and the Philippines. Polymetallic nodules in the Clarion Clipperton Zone (CCZ) represent the largest-known and the lowest-impact source of nickel on the planet.
Cobalt boosts energy density and battery life, keeps batteries stable and safe during charging and use, and offers high conductivity.
The Metals Company derives a particular CoSO4 from deep-sea polymetallic nodules that dramatically reduces the environmental and social impacts of mining cobalt on land. For every kilogram of cobalt produce from land-based mining, more than a ton of toxic tailings must be stored indefinitely. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the world’s largest producer, thousands of children work in dangerous artisanal cobalt mines. Sourcing cobalt from polymetallic nodules allows us to reduce the total solid waste generated by 85%.
Copper is the primary material for EV battery connectors and the wiring harness, which allows for the flow of electricity throughout the car. It also makes up the windings that are central to an electric motor.
From vehicle chargers to transmission lines, copper cuts across all clean energy technologies; however, the average grade of copper is declining steadily, to around just 0.5%—meaning that ever larger quantities of land must be disrupted and toxic waste streams created to produce the same amount of metal. In Chile, the world’s largest producer of copper, which plays host to six of the ten largest mines, this footprint is increasingly placing the region’s abundance of endemic species—the highest in the world—under threat. Sourcing copper from polymetallic nodules allows us to reduce total solid waste streams by 95%.
Manganese helps achieve low internal resistance but offers a low specific energy, making it an ideal partner for nickel in battery cathodes
Most commonly used in steel-making, manganese is one of the planet’s most abundant and inexpensive metals, but the growing need for batteries for electric vehicles and energy storage is driving significant demand for the metal. In South Africa, which hosts 70% of the world’s manganese resources, land-use change driven by mining has a significant impact on the nation’s biodiversity, for which it is ranked amongst the richest in the world.
A Billion Electric Vehicles
An electric vehicle with a 75 kWh battery pack and NMC 811 chemistry needs 56 kg of nickel, 7 kg of manganese, and 7 kg of cobalt, plus 85 kg of copper for electric wiring. One billion EVs—the equivalent of the world’s entire passenger fleet—would require 56 million tons of nickel, 7 million tons of manganese, 7 million tons of cobalt, and 85 million tons of copper—exponentially more than destructive mines produce now.* Producing these battery metals from polymetallic nodules is the best way to ensure we can meet the challenges of the climate crisis with the lightest environmental and social impacts.
*In 2019, 2.3Mt nickel (only 50% suitable for batteries), 18Mt manganese, 140Kt cobalt mined, and 12Mt copper was mined globally.
Closing the Loop
Once The Metals Company begins supplying battery metals for EVs and energy storage, we’ll track our metals as they enter the supply chain. Within a decade of production, our aim is to recycle battery metals in a closed-loop system of rental and redeployment partnerships with like-minded EV and battery manufacturers. This circular supply chain will grow over time and, as the need for new metals decreases, recycled metals will become our primary focus.
We estimate that after three to four decades, there should be enough cobalt, nickel, copper, and manganese in the system to meet demand by recycling alone. At this point, The Metals Company will transition entirely to recycling and redeployment of our planet’s metal commons.