June 3, 2020 @ 11:56 by Richard Dawson
Enshore Subsea, which has bases in Darlington and Blyth, is developing new solutions to responsibly recover minerals from the ocean floor.
The minerals are essential for Electric Vehicle (EV) batteries and have the potential to create a billion-pound-a-year market in the North East, supporting thousands of local jobs.
Enshore has completed trials in the vastness of the Pacific Ocean in partnership with DeepGreen Metals, developing a new process to safely collect polymetallic nodules; a key source of metals critical for the growing EV industry.
Polymetallic nodules are small rock concretions containing high concentrations of manganese, copper, cobalt and nickel, and can be found in vast areas of the world’s sea beds in significant volumes, enough to provide battery materials to electrify the world’s fleet of vehicles many times over.
With more than 25 years of expertise in subsea operations, Enshore Subsea is taking the first steps in establishing this new sector for the North East.
The UK is among a few pioneering countries, which have substantial seabed exploration rights and with the right investment and Government support, the recovery of seabed minerals could sustain more than 2500 highly skilled jobs in the region within a £1 billion-per-year high technology industry.
Recovering seabed minerals from the seabed would also mitigate concerns connect with conventional land-based mining.
Currently, electric vehicle battery elements are mined in regions of high biodiversity such as Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central Africa, where children are known to labour in abhorrent conditions.
Research shows that minerals such as nickel, cobalt and copper can be processed from polymetallic nodules with a fraction of the environmental and social impacts compared to current terrestrial mining practices.
Enshore has developed a novel method that both reduces the impact on the subsea environment and minimises plumes of seabed materials being generated during the recovery process.
For the next stage of research and development, a 50 per cent scale harvesting system is to be designed and fabricated and then trialled on-site in the Pacific by 2022.
Pierre Boyde, managing director of Enshore Subsea said: “This is a once in a generation opportunity for the UK, and the North East of England in particular, to create a viable and sustainable new industry, which supports the electric vehicle revolution while providing an alternative to conventional and destructive land-based mining.
“We have the technical skills and management expertise in this country to deliver this process, but we are in an international race against countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands.
“We have the experience in the UK to be a world leader in this market and support from the UK Government, both to aid research and development as well as export guarantees from UK Export Finance will be essential for our emerging industry to gain traction and in return, generate the jobs and investment to boost our regional and national economies.”
Peter Gibson MP for Darlington said: “I am delighted to see further innovation from Enshore Subsea who are at the forefront of their sector.
“Their continued innovation, investment, and ingenuity is a symbol of all that is great about businesses based here in the heart of the North East.”
Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen added: “Enshore is a fantastic local business who have really committed to our region. They are a division of DeepOcean, who will soon be relocating to the high-quality new office space in Feethams House in Darlington.
“It is extremely exciting that their new innovative work has the potential to create thousands of local jobs in Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool, making us a world leader in this pioneering industry, pumping billions of pounds into our economy.”