Plucking Minerals from the Seabed is Back on the Agenda

Big companies have looked into the idea of mining the ocean floor since the 1960s and 1970s. They proved the principle by collecting hundreds of tonnes of manganese nodules—potato-sized mineral. At first sight, these nodules are attractive targets for mining because, besides manganese, they are rich in cobalt, copper and nickel. As a commercial proposition, though, the idea never caught on. Working underwater proved too expensive and prospectors discovered new mines on dry land. Worries about shortages went away, and ocean mining returned whence it had come, to the pages of science-fiction novels. But now it is coming back.

DoD Eyes $3 Billion Investment for Underwater Drone Development

    The Defense Department plans to invest up to $3 billion in funds in an effort to build and field unmanned underwater vehicles designed to perform surveillance operations, the Washington Post reported. Rear Adm. Mathias Winter, head of the Office of Naval Research, said at a Center for Strategic and International Studies-hosted conference that ONR plans to develop an “Eisenhower highway network” of UUVs that will work to map the ocean floor and “go out for decades at a time.” Christian Davenport writes the U.S. Navy also plans to establish underwater stations designed to allow undersea drones to recharge. Frank Herr, head of the ONR’s ocean battlespace sensing department, told the publication that such undersea communication and energy outposts will serve as a “place where you can gas up or charge your underwater vehicles, transfer data and maybe store some data.” The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency also plans to…

Autonomous Vehicles to Reduce Windfarm Costs

A U.K. government grant of £4 million will be used to create remote inspection and repair technologies for offshore wind farms using robotics and autonomous systems. These will be used to inspect the condition of subsea power cables, identify problems early and ultimately, and extend their lifespan. The U.K. government has set ambitious decarbonization targets, increasing the present 5GW generated by offshore wind farms to 40GW by 2050. The cost of achieving these targets has, until now, focused on the capital outlay for wind turbines, but budgets have largely ignored the operation and maintenance of wind farm assets, including subsea cabling. “By integrating technologies, such as autonomous underwater vehicles and advanced sonar technology, we will gain a new insight into the condition of these subsea assets,” said Dr. David Flynn, director of the Smart Systems Group at Heriot-Watt University. “The U.K. is leading the world in the development of remote…

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