Seabed minerals: A new industry for Norway?

Read the summary of ETN and EYs co-hosted half-day seminar on seabed minerals on march 29th.

Karianne Skjæveland
Communication Manager
April 18, 2023
Deep Sea Minerals

Energy Transition Norway (ETN) and EY organized a half-day seminar on the extraction of seabed minerals on March 29th. The seminar highlighted the vast potential for a new, Norwegian industry in seabed mineral extraction, but also the challenges and risks associated with it.

Minerals – fundamental building blocks in the green transition

Seabed minerals is a potential new business area for Norway. Our country is expected to have the world's second-largest resources of seabed minerals such as cobalt, zinc, and copper. Much of the expertise needed for exploration and extraction is directly transferable from the oil industry, in which many of our clusters members are world leaders, said Egil Aanestad, managing director of Energy Transition Norway (ETN).

EY, who co-organized the seminar with ETN, emphasized the importance of these minerals, and the fact that we are already behind in meeting the global, growing demand.

– A significant amount of work remains to be done to determine what is inside and the size of the deposits that are out there. Mapping and finding out as much as possible about the largest concentrations is critical to saving time, costs, and environmental impact, said Vegard Sjursen and Anders Bjerga from EY.

They presented seabed minerals as one of the diversification opportunities for Norwegian oil and gas companies and shared EY's perspectives on business development and critical success factors in the new industry. Key findings from "The Ocean-based Value Chain," the report they recently wrote for the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate and which was launched in connection with the impact assessment, was shared with the audience.

According to Sjursen and Bjerga, we need a significant amount of minerals in a short time.

We are looking at up to a 4,000% increase in the need for lithium by 2040. And China, which accounts for 40 - 90% of all 'energy transition minerals,' is entirely dominant on the scene.

– Thus, we are now placing greater emphasis on supply security - that we have access to the minerals we need for batteries, wind turbines, solar cells, and electric networks that will be a huge consumer of critical minerals. It is clear that the mineral needs of the green shift cannot be met by land-based mining alone, said Sjursen.

Norway in position to establish new value chains

Given the EU's focus on becoming more self-sufficient and independent in our energy supply, Norway is in position to establish new value chains based on seabed minerals. Bjerga, who holds a PhD in minerals, emphasizes that the precondition for being allowed to operate in the deep sea is that it must be more sustainable than what we have done with land-based mining.

EY believes that ocean-based operations can be industrialized and that we need to speed up the licensing process. However, we are not yet prepared for processing on land.

A comprehensive value chain must be developed, and critical success factors to achieve this include clear and predictable frameworks, a shared roadmap and action plan, the establishment of an investment and value chain program, and a "sense of urgency." A domestic market in Norway will enable technology development and open up new export opportunities.

The Clarion-Clipperton-Zone

Norwegian marine biologist Thomas G. Dahlgren from NORCE shared his experiences from the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ), where he has been working since 2013.

The CCZ, which spans 4.5 million square kilometers between Hawaii and Mexico, is an abyssal plain containing trillions of potato-sized polymetallic nodules that make it the world's most promising area for nodules.

Currently, the only exploration licenses out there are in the CCZ, but a framework for production is being developed. Norway and the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate are being very active in this area.


Nodules are small, round lumps of minerals that form on the seabed and that are visible to the naked eye, typically at depths of 4,000 to 6,000 meters. They are composed mainly of manganese, but also contain nickel, cobalt, copper, and other metals. Nodules form over millions of years as metal ions in seawater gradually accumulate around a small nucleus, such as a shell fragment, or a shark tooth. This type of seabed minerals are typically about the size of a potato.

Dahlgren plays a video clip showing a robot picking up a nodule that is lying in an almost liquid sediment on the ocean floor. A large dust cloud arises. The problem of ‘plume’ will be one of the biggest challenges for companies that wants to collect them.

– We don't know the impact this dust cloud, which will settle elsewhere, will have on the vast biological diversity found in the sediments - in the nodules, Dahlgren said.

To date, only one new species has been found to live in the nodules, which have not been found elsewhere. Dahlgren stated that 80% of the ocean is deep water between 3,000 and 6,000 meters deep, areas which we know very little about.

In the CCZ, 13 areas are exempt from mining due to biodiversity and ecosystem protection, but knowledge of the area is extremely limited. Knowledge of the depths contrasts with the North Sea, which is the world's most well-known seabed, and Dahlgren emphasizes that effective and responsible management of seabed minerals requires new knowledge.

Loke Marine Minerals, which recently acquired the UK1 on the CCZ, has removed almost all plume-related problems with its mechanical nodules picking technology, which can pick up 10,000 tons of nodules per day.

According to Sognnes, the CCZ has 45 times the global demand for nickel and 150 times the global demand for cobalt in 2030.

He too emphasized the challenging geopolitical situation surrounding mineral extraction today, stating that current land-based mining is primarily done in Congo and Indonesia and is mainly financed by China.

Massive sulfides

Whereas nodules are visible to the naked eye, massive sulfides, on the other hand, are mineral deposits that form near hydrothermal vents on the seafloor. These deposits are created by hot, mineral-rich fluids that are ejected from the vents and mix with cold seawater, causing the metals to precipitate and form solid masses.

Massive sulfides are composed mainly of iron, copper, zinc, lead, and other metals. They can be several meters in size and are often found in clusters, and deposits can be found at depths of several hundred meters.

Per Buset from Technip FMC was commissioned by the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate to take samples of the Norwegian seabed to see how coil tubing and bottom hole assembly can be used as a means of deploying and retrieving them.  

Together with Halliburton, Technic FMC used standard core drilling technology known from the oil industry, including a crane ROV to pick up 600 kg rock samples from the seabed. Buset stated that there is still a significant task to discover what minerals are present in the seabed and the size of the deposits.

– Mapping the area to find out where the largest concentrations are, to save time, costs, and environmental footprint, is key, Buset said.

Per Erik Berger of MinerAll demonstrated how his company’s advanced downhole core drilling technology can be used for exploring the deeper formations of massive sulfides. MinerAll's "logging while coring tool" technology is originally developed for oil drilling but can also be used to these underlying deposits.

It’s dark, it’s deep, and it’s pitch black

Those were the words of Jan Stenløkk of the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate, describing what its like to do the mapping, impact assessments, and resource evaluations of the known deposits on Mohn Ridge.

The ridge is located in the Norwegian Sea and is an important area for the Norwegian government, as it contains valuable deposits of manganese nodules and massive sulfides. However, extracting these resources is a complex and time-consuming process. Geophysical survey methods used to map the area are slow and expensive, and the harsh environment makes it difficult to work in. Despite these challenges, Stenløkk confirmed that there are several deposits of both massive sulfides and manganese nodules with up to 40 cm thick crusts.

While there are indications that there is an abundance of minerals present on the NCS, it is crucial to take into account the risks, environmental aspects, marine life, and other factors. The Norwegian Petroleum Directorate is aware of these considerations and is working on addressing them in a long-term perspective.

The way forward for Norway

The process of opening up mineral activity on the Norwegian continental shelf has begun. The impact assessment work has been completed and handed over to the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate for public consultation.

So what happens now? It's possible we'll get answers over the summer, as there will be a session in the government to decide whether to open up licenses there.

If the Norwegian government does decide to open up licenses, it could be a significant boost for the Norwegian economy. The mineral deposits on Mohn Ridge are estimated to be worth billions of dollars, and the extraction of these resources could create thousands of jobs in the mining and offshore industries.

However, there are also concerns about the environmental impact of mining in these areas. The harsh environment of both the Mohn Ridge and the Clarion-Clipperton-Zone is home to a diverse range of marine life, and mining could have a significant impact on this ecosystem.

The Norwegian government has promised to take these concerns seriously and has conducted a thorough impact assessment to ensure that any mining activities in the area are done in a responsible and sustainable way.

The Norwegian government's decision on whether to open up licenses on the Mohn Ridge will be eagerly awaited by both the mining industry and environmentalists alike.

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