Polymetallic nodules are mineral precipitates formed of concentric layers of iron and manganese hydroxides around a core. These golf-ball to large potato sized nodules occur over extensive areas of the vast sediment-covered abyssal plains of the global ocean, sitting on the seafloor ready to be ‘harvested’. The nodules lie in water depths of approximately 4000-5000 meters.
The CCZ has been extensively explored by groups including major mining companies of the day INCO and Kennecott, and significant work in the 1970’s culminated in approximately 1,500 tonnes of nodules being successfully trial mined in the region from around 4,500m below sea level, demonstrating that the nodules can be harvested and pumped to a surface platform and processed for recovery of metals. Notwithstanding that success, exclusive rights to commercialize the deposits in international waters could not be obtained at that time as until July 2000 there were no international regulations providing legal title to the deposits.
Today, title is now available in the international seabed area under the International Seabed Authority (ISA) regulations, and there has been over 30 years of technological advancement within the offshore Oil & Gas industry offering today new mature technology development options for the seafloor minerals industry. These technology developments are in addition to the extensive exploration, engineering, trial mining and environmental studies previously carried out in the 1970's and 1980's by major mining companies such as Inco and Kennecott.
Countries such as China, Russia, Japan and Korea have also recognized the value of seafloor polymetallic nodules and secured licences to these vast deposits as well. UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced in March 2013 that the seafloor polymetallic nodule industry “is expected to be worth up to £40bn to the UK economy over the next 30 years”.