Japan Dives to Secure Cobalt and Nickel in the Ocean

This article first appeared on the BNEF mobile app and the Bloomberg Terminal.

  • Average grade of seabed cobalt is 10 times higher than land
  • Japan imported 900 metric tons of cobalt products in 2019

Japan Oil, Gas & Metals National Corp. (JOGMEC) confirmed that it has conducted the world’s first successful excavation test of a cobalt-rich crust on the seabed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone. The test utilized a special crust-excavation testing machine.

Japan is dependent on imports of many critical materials like cobalt, nickel, and rare earths, necessary for its high-tech manufacturing. In 2019, it imported 900 metric tons of cobalt products.

Average grade of seabed cobalt is 10 times higher than land based cobalt deposits. However, unlike manganese nodules, which form on the ocean floor, cobalt rich crusts form on the peaks of seamounts making it difficult to use traditional dredging techniques to mine. JOGMEC’s equipment, if successful, could make ocean mining of cobalt feasible.

In spite of the technological advancement, concerns remain over the environmental disturbance of deep sea mining on the marine ecosystem and biodiversity. Further tests are needed to determine its potential to compete with land-based mining.

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