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Press Release: GSR and Keppel O&M to collaborate on deep sea riser and mining vessel technology

Global Sea Mineral Resources NV (GSR) of Belgium and Keppel FELS, a subsidiary of Keppel Offshore & Marine (Keppel O&M) from Singapore have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for the development of a deep sea riser and support vessel to collect, transport and store polymetallic nodules from the deep sea in an environmentally responsible way.

Engineering work will commence this year, with a deepwater test planned in approximately 3 years’ time. This test will then inform the design of a full-scale seabed mineral support vessel.

Numerous studies show that even with greatly expanded recycling, there is expected to be a dramatic increase in demand for the metals found in seabed nodules in the coming decades. This will be driven in part by the urgent need to decarbonise the global energy system and the rapid expansion of infrastructure to house a fast-growing urban population. [1]

GSR is part of the DEME Group. Using its 140 years of know-how, DEME is addressing many of the most pressing global challenges, including climate change, rising sea levels, and the transition to renewable energy.

Keppel O&M is the global leader in providing solutions to the offshore, marine and energy industries. The company has successfully delivered almost half of the world’s newbuild jackup rigs and semisubmersibles in the past decade.

GSR and Keppel O&M both have extensive offshore experience, with GSR focusing on seafloor mineral exploration, including collector technology development and Keppel O&M on vessel technology development to support seabed mining operations.

GSR will be testing its pre-prototype collector Patania II later this year in collaboration with an independent EU-funded research consortium ‘MiningImpact 2018-2022’ comprising GEOMAR and JPI Oceans.  Dozens of independent scientists will deploy sensors and take biota samples from the abyssal plain to study the effects of nodule collection.

It is expected that the International Seabed Authority (ISA) will adopt regulations governing commercial activity in 2021, providing a roadmap towards the responsible development of ocean minerals by 2026.

The GSR/Keppel O&M partnership is focused on polymetallic nodules found in the Clarion Clipperton Zone (CCZ) of the Pacific Ocean. It is estimated that the nodules found in the CCZ contain 1.2 times more manganese, 1.8 times more nickel and 3.4 times more cobalt than all known land-based reserves combined.[2]  These metals are never found together on land, meaning that one seafloor deposit is the equivalent of three mines on land. Unlike other types of seabed mineral exploration, polymetallic nodules can be collected from the seafloor with no cutting or drilling into the seabed. Preliminary studies, which will be published soon, have shown that the carbon footprint of producing these metals from the ocean is significantly less than the alternative, which is to expand land-based mining.

Kris van Nijen, Managing Director of GSR, said: “We are delighted to be working with such a reputable partner. Not only is Keppel a world leader in offshore construction, it shares our vision for a more sustainable future and the important contribution responsibly sourced seabed minerals can make.”

Aziz Merchant, Executive Director of Keppel Marine and Deepwater Technology Pte Ltd said: “Keppel is committed to sustainable urbanisation and we are conducting feasibility studies to ensure that deep-sea mineral collection can be conducted with minimal disruption to the environment. We are pleased to collaborate with GSR to develop innovative solutions that can be combined with our capabilities in repurposing offshore technology for mineral exploration vessels and our construction expertise to develop integrated solutions.”

References:

[1] The Growing Role of Minerals and Metals for a Low Carbon Future, World Bank, 2017; Responsible Minerals Sourcing for Renewable Energy, Institute for Sustainable Futures, 2019; A new industrial strategy for Europe, 2020; The UN World Population Prospects, UN, 2019 and The UN World Urbanisation Prospects, 2018; Global Warming of 1.5 ºC, IPCC, 2019

[2] Deep-ocean polymetallic nodules as a resource for critical materials, Hein et al., Nature Reviews, 2020