The British government has voiced its support for the deep sea mining industry following the awarding of exploration rights to a British subsidiary of Lockheed Martin, UK Seabed Resources. Prime Minister David Cameron has said the sector could be worth 40 billion pounds to the British economy over the next 30 years.
The exploration license covers a 58,000 sq km patch of seabed between Hawaiiand Mexico.
To mine the seabed, a support vessel arrives at the site and launches a mining vehicle.
The subsea mining tool - or crawler - roves the seabed, slicing clumps of mineral-rich rock called ‘polymetallic nodules’ from the crust.
For smooth passage in the high-pressure environment, the hose is floated above the crawler and weighted beneath the ship.
The crawler crushes the rocks, and a mixture of gravel and seawater is pumped to the surface vessel via an umbilical hose.
Working at depths of up to 4 km, the crawler is specially designed to withstand corrosion and extreme pressure.
The nodules are packed with many rare earth elements and valuable metals, including cobalt, manganese, nickel, copper and aluminium.
Although costly and technically complex, such projects could be extremely profitable.
National Institute of Ocean Technology