Deep-sea mining comprises all the technologies involved in the environmentally friendly exploration, exploitation, extraction, mining and processing of marine mineral resources (MMRs). As an industrialized country, Germany is heavily dependent on imports of important metallic raw materials. MMRs are an as yet undeveloped source currently enjoying increasing interest at global level: over the medium term, they can contribute substantially towards guaranteeing a supply of metallic raw materials.

In terms of economic usability and the long-term safeguarding of access to metallic raw materials, the incidence of manganese nodules, cobalt-rich manganese crusts, seafloor massive sulphides and phosphorite nodules is of great interest.

manganese nodule

GMT; © Hydromod-Service GmbH

Germany holds an exploration license for manganese nodules in the Pacific Ocean since 2006. A second exploration license for seafloor massive sulphides in the Indian Ocean was granted by the International Seabed Authority (ISA) in 2015. With the support of the German government’s NMMT, policy-makers and society have become more aware of deep-sea mining in recent years, and the issue has been highlighted at various events.

The objective of environmentally friendly deep-sea mining must be furthered. To this end, the related federal ministries, along with interested companies and research institutes and the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR), are required to prepare and implement an environmentally friendly technology demonstration project which can also take place in the European context and which has been coordinated with the ISA, taking into consideration the entire process chain.

This would enable Germany to pioneer high standards for environmentally friendly deep-sea mining. To date, German companies have only played a relatively minor role on the market for MMRs, which is developing dynamically globally. All the major mining companies as potential end clients are located outside of Germany.

Innovative solutions in the key fields of drilling technology, conveying technology and underwater engineering are available. Synergies can be achieved by using related technologies from the fields of mining engineering, drilling and tunnel-driving engineering, pump technology as well as automatic control engineering. German companies and institutions offer tried-and-tested exploration technologies and services. Furthermore, Germany has efficient, innovative shipyards and maritime suppliers in the field of special shipbuilding. Technological challenges pertaining to the future commercialization of the extraction of MMRs are: increasing economic efficiency, optimizing environmental compatibility, the supply of energy, the development of intelligent systems for largely autonomous production processes and chemicalmetallurgical processing.

The relevant business associations are currently realizing various activities for deep-sea mining, e.g. the MMR working group of the German Association for Marine Technology (GMT), the cross-sector VDMA deep-sea mining working group/the VDMA research association for mining and the VDMA activities at the BDI (Federation of German Industries) level.

With the aid of the NMMT, the association "DeepSea Mining Alliance" was established in April 2014: as a joint platform of the industry, its main objective is to support the coordinated representation of interests vis-à-vis politics, industry and society.

The main objectives of the DeepSea Mining Alliance are:

  • To push ahead with the development of deep-sea mining projects both in Germany and internationally
  • Support of innovation and R&D projects
  • Close cooperation with leading research institutes, taking into consideration all environmentally relevant aspects
  • Creation of a "strategy roadmap" with the preliminary target being the performance of a "pilot mining test".