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Deep-Sea Mining Rules Could Affect EVs

The International Seabed Authority is debating a proposal that could prove critical in determining how and when battery minerals are harvested from the deep ocean floor, and it’s a matter that could have a big impact on the future of electric vehicles, according to POLITICO Pro (subscription).

Roadmap: The ISA is meeting this week to discuss a roadmap of rulemaking for the next two years. In June, the island nation of Nauru, which is sponsoring the application for a mining license of a Canadian startup, activated a rule that requires the ISA to make final regulations within two years.

  • If the ISA does not do so within that time frame, the island can automatically begin approving provisional deep-sea mining permits.

Treasure trove: “Scientists and miners have long known that precious metals are found in abundance in the ocean’s deepest, most far-flung regions. The greatest trove is in the Pacific Ocean’s Clarion-Clipperton Zone, where nodules of metals like cobalt, nickel, manganese and copper lie on the ocean floor.”

  • Nickel and cobalt are important components of lithium-ion batteries, on which electric vehicles run.

Environmental impact: In September, more than 600 scientists and policy experts signed a resolution saying deep-sea mining would result in inevitable biodiversity loss, the consequences of which are not known.

  • “‘It’s not possible to mine these nodules without doing severe damage,’ said Matt Gianni, political and policy adviser for the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition. Given the amount of time it would take to issue licenses for seabed exploitation and launch mining projects there, it’s unlikely that deep-sea miners could help stave off a wider shortage of minerals for the energy transition, Gianni argued.”

Shortfall predicted: Analysts predict a long-lasting shortage of nickel and cobalt in the coming years, which could increase battery prices.

The United States’ take: Though the United States is not a member of ISA, “under the Obama and Trump administrations, the Commerce Department’s [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] extended decades-old permits for mining exploration activities in the Clarion–Clipperton Zone.”

  • However, the Biden administration has said the U.S. should aim to have large supplies of nickel- and cobalt-free batteries by 2030.
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