Mining The Oceans For Minerals -- Mining In The 21st Century

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posted on Jan, 29 2013 @ 03:27 PM
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Afternoon folks,

I was having a discussion with a friend of mine today regarding the viability of mining the oceans, as in processing the water, to extract the various minerals and metals that are contained within.

This stemmed from a conversation regarding Canada's rich mining industry and it's need to move away from conventional mining and evolve into a business for the 21st century. A model that is not only profitable but eco-friendly.

This idea of course, has challenges. You can image the enormous costs associated with conversation to a new system or technology and the long period of time it would take to get all this done. It's difficult, but not impossible we will say.

So let's get started with something that lately has come in the news frequently.

Rare Earth Elements


As defined by IUPAC, rare earth elements ("REEs") or rare earth metals are a set of seventeen chemical elements in the periodic table, specifically the fifteen lanthanides plus scandium and yttrium.[2] Scandium and yttrium are considered rare earth elements since they tend to occur in the same ore deposits as the lanthanides and exhibit similar chemical properties.


Source

These minerals are in all of our high end electronics. It's what makes all this wonderful new age technology work really. China currently owns a monopoly, or shortly will on these rare earth minerals and various people have stated that the next war could very well be over rare earth minerals or resources such as them in general.

What if, a new way of getting our hands on these minerals was made available? What if tons and tons of it was available, an almost limitless supply was made available to the markets? Other than the preventing conflict aspect there's the cost differential.

Things decrease in cost the more of that thing is available in most cases. If the base required elements are in abundance and cheap, one could say that the probability of electronics for example, becoming cheaper, is pretty good.

Luckily, a University in Tokyo has potentially found such a thing.


Spooked by the Chinese embargo of rare earth elements the rare earth mining industry is busily looking and investing in rare earth mineral extraction. Several prospects look practical. Meanwhile Japan’s Yasuhiro Kato, associate processor at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Engineering is leading a research group that’s found widely distributed high-quality rare earth-rich mud in the central and southeastern Pacific Ocean.

First one asks is that kind of deposit possible to gather and how deep? Kato notes the mineral resources are distributed 3,500 to 6,000 meters below the surface of the sea, it is possible to mine and collect more than 40 million tons of rare earth-rich mud every year with existing technologies. Plus, the rare elements can be extracted from the collected mud in a short time by using, for example, dilute sulfuric acid.


Source

So as that article states, using existing technologies, we could mine 40 million tons of the stuff. That would drastically change the landscape of many industries.

Now that we know that rare earth minerals could be extracted, could any others be there in quantities worth processing?

Maybe, and maybe not.

Research conducted and presented back in 2008 shows that a viable industry exists, although as I mentioned, extraordinary cost and time would be required.

Here's the table listing the various elements and the potential gain from extraction.




As we see, there are huge metal resources in the sea. The question is how to extract them. The most general method consists in passing seawater through a membrane that contains functional groups that selectively bind to the species of interest. No known membrane is 100% selective for a single species, but it is possible to create membranes that can retain a small number of selected low concentration species. The adsorbates can be extracted from the membrane by flushing it with appropriate chemicals; a process called "elution". After this stage, the metal ions can be separated and recovered by precipitation or electrodeposition.

In practice, it is very difficult to extract low concentration ions at reasonable costs. Lithium extraction was tried in the 1970s (Schwochau 1984) but the tests were soon abandoned. The idea of extracting uranium has been around for a long time, at least from the 1960s (see Nebbia 2007 for a review). But just a few grams were extracted in Japan in the late 1990s (Seko 2003). Then, there is the old dream of getting gold from the sea. The German chemist Fritz Haber tried that in the 1920s but the task of extracting gold ions at concentrations of a few parts per trillion (ppt) was nearly desperate and, indeed, the attempt was a total failure.

Evidently, we have big problems here. That is not surprising: there is a lot of water in the ocean and, in comparison, very small amounts of useful metals.


Source

Ok so that's some general information. I'm not a scientist so I don't claim to have a vast knowledge of all this, but it certainly does spark my interest. Could this be the mining of the future?

If I'm being ignorant here or have a case of wishful thinking, somebody with the science know-how should let me know
.

Could we start this today and provide perhaps a glimmer of hope to our children than their nations won't be in a constant resource grab? Or could this be really a bad thing, putting more rare resources and greater numbers, into the hands of the very few?

I'll leave you with this video form Ted Talk.



It's a talk given by Damian Palin about using bacteria to mine the oceans.

Thoughts?

~Tenth
edit on 1/29/2013 by tothetenthpower because: (no reason given)
edit on 1/29/2013 by tothetenthpower because: (no reason given)




posted on Jan, 29 2013 @ 04:10 PM
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I have a thought and question to add to this, -Tenth. It's a great idea that I certainly had never thought of or had any idea the water contained in measurable levels and consistently.

However, that brings the question. Is all that perhaps necessary to be there in ways we don't or can't understand? It seems in the world around us things either develop to a balance as a cause or as an effect but either way, evething in nature seems to have a general balance over untold time to reach it.

Might marine life be dependent on the intake of these minerals in the water or even dependent life we either don't appreciate as being that yet or too deep/on the bottom to have noticed yet?

If this is all floating free in the water and there is no benefit to or from it, then by all means I'd love to see a way to recover it as we move into a future of increasing strife over these very things...as long as there isn't a giant whammy of unintended consequence at the end of it?



posted on Jan, 29 2013 @ 04:11 PM
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There was a guy on the show "Shark Tank" with his "Sullivan Generator" that could extract gold from seawater.

Here's a link to get you started.

I saw the episode, and unfortunatley the machine is just not cost effective.



posted on Jan, 29 2013 @ 04:13 PM
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reply to post by Wrabbit2000
 


From what I gather, the minerals at the sea bed level are from thousands upon thousands of years of shifting and volcanic eruptions. I believe I read our most active volcanoes are all underwater and the molten rock and such that is brought up from the mantle no doubt has this stuff in it.

I do agree we will have to study the effects on marine life and the necessity of these things in the ecosystems. Then again though, looking at how much of the stuff is there, and how much we would require year over year, I don't think we'd make that big of a dent.

~Tenth
edit on 1/29/2013 by tothetenthpower because: (no reason given)



posted on Jan, 29 2013 @ 04:36 PM
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im sure machinery could do it, but the smart money is on asteroid mining.

while initial setup would be high, you can mine minerals in space on a return trip to earth for the asteroid fields

you can mine stuff to use as fuel, have a fuel depot built in orbit, have low costs shuttle launches to teh depot then shoot off to mine.

no inner atmosphere processing, no pollution, no marine life issues.
it never made sense to me to send a few dudes to the moon, but not get out there and mine the crap out of all those minerals just floating around

gold, platinum titanium, water ice
you name it, its most likely out there.. just past mars.



posted on Jan, 29 2013 @ 05:14 PM
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reply to post by okamitengu
 


I see where you are coming from and I agree that asteroid mining is something we should look into and implement once we can, but for the immediate future this seems far more viable.

Secondly, this is the kind of infrastructure project a government can invest in that not only creates job, but creates long term employment. It creates revenue for the government and is something that the whole nation can get together and build.

Patriotism and nationalism should be reserved for grand creations, not grand conquests. We need to encourage a whole generation of scientists and engineers. The last batch were inspired by our exploits on the moon.

Perhaps our oceans can provide enough encouragement for the 2nd.

~Tenth



posted on Jan, 29 2013 @ 07:06 PM
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Originally posted by tothetenthpower
reply to post by okamitengu
 


I see where you are coming from and I agree that asteroid mining is something we should look into and implement once we can, but for the immediate future this seems far more viable.

Secondly, this is the kind of infrastructure project a government can invest in that not only creates job, but creates long term employment. It creates revenue for the government and is something that the whole nation can get together and build.

Patriotism and nationalism should be reserved for grand creations, not grand conquests. We need to encourage a whole generation of scientists and engineers. The last batch were inspired by our exploits on the moon.

Perhaps our oceans can provide enough encouragement for the 2nd.

~Tenth


the main argument for oceanic mining is we can already do it with current tech.
i just hate to see money spent on that, when the better returns, in the long game would be on space mining.

also you dont have to deal with massive crushing water pressure (:



posted on Jan, 29 2013 @ 10:09 PM
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reply to post by okamitengu
 


In all honesty I can make the case that we would do far better long term if we invest in the ocean mining. Just take a look at the amount of resources and materials we could gather.

Just in rare earth, that tonnage is very, very impressive. As pointed out, it can also be done right now.

For space mining, that's an industry that has no precedent and our willingness to explore the depths of space outside our little atmosphere seems to be dwindling.

The private sector space program seems mostly interested in monetizing it, so that means space tourism more than space research.

I think we can pursue both alternatives, at the same time.

~Tenth



posted on Jan, 29 2013 @ 10:19 PM
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Patriotism and nationalism should be reserved for grand creations, not grand conquests.


I'd personally like to see the same thought applied towards capitalism as well....

We already have 5 gyres of floating stuff, some is making its way up the food chain and killing off wildlife unfortunate enough to encounter it - do we really need to sully further the beautiful life that exists in the oceans for our convenience? All these metals you speak of in electronics should be rendered back out of the stuff instead of clogging landfills and giving target practice in the woods for old TV sets.

5 gyres

I support new tech and procedures but I also have concerns of people and animals trying to survive in a 'played out' environment thats been exploited to death.
edit on 29-1-2013 by explorer14 because: link



posted on Jan, 29 2013 @ 10:54 PM
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Originally posted by Wrabbit2000
I have a thought and question to add to this, -Tenth. It's a great idea that I certainly had never thought of or had any idea the water contained in measurable levels and consistently.

However, that brings the question. Is all that perhaps necessary to be there in ways we don't or can't understand? It seems in the world around us things either develop to a balance as a cause or as an effect but either way, evething in nature seems to have a general balance over untold time to reach it.

Might marine life be dependent on the intake of these minerals in the water or even dependent life we either don't appreciate as being that yet or too deep/on the bottom to have noticed yet?

If this is all floating free in the water and there is no benefit to or from it, then by all means I'd love to see a way to recover it as we move into a future of increasing strife over these very things...as long as there isn't a giant whammy of unintended consequence at the end of it?


You make some great points, and I'd like to elaborate a bit more with my own opinion =)

To me, recent "science" seems to be applied in hindsight. Where today's "science" says it is possible and ok, only to be wrong XX years in the future. What looks good on paper is not good for life. Science seems all to ready to have an answer that will be "good" for the environment and money (as usual). DDT was good, right?

Also I have to question the entire premise of this thread -- why do people HAVE to continue raping the Earth's resources? When does it ever end? When we have nothing left?



posted on Jan, 29 2013 @ 10:55 PM
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reply to post by explorer14
 


I see your point regarding the oceans and keeping them clean. Yes I have thought about whether or not I would want the same companies causing mining disasters like the Tar Sands here in Canada to be in charge of these programs.

The simple answer is no. I think that as a national project we could keep these things relatively well done, so long as we had proper oversight. Which could include environmental groups who want to make sure things go as they should.

There's collaboration to be done on something like that. Everybody must be able to have a say.

~Tenth



posted on Jan, 30 2013 @ 12:11 AM
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reply to post by tothetenthpower
 


It's been years ago, but I watched a documentary on this very subject - probably on Nova, Frontline, or some other PBS specific show. For the life of me I cannot recall any of the options that they listed as potential methods of harvesting minerals from the ocean. I do recall that somewhere there are rather large vacuums being used to accomplish this - but if memory serves it was for one specific element or mineral.

My first thought, off of the top of my head is, if the oceans are that full of precious commodities - then wouldn't salt flats and anywhere that was formerly under salt water also be rich in those same things? It seems to me, off hand, that it might be easier to find them in their concentrated form, there, than in their diluted form at sea.

As to the economic need to harvest these things from the oceans? I honestly don't see it. We've got plenty of precious metals to go around. Or at least we should. Precious metals are recycled frequently and we still have large scale mining operations for all that I can think of, with what seems like a pretty abundant supply left above sea level.

The one exception that I can call to mind might be copper. When I worked in the sheet metal industry I was always amazed at just how expensive copper is. A tiny coil of copper ( maybe a thousand pounds ) cost substantially more than a GIANT roll of the highest grade stainless steel. Copper was the only metal that the company owners insisted upon being present for when it was processed. So I can see copper as being maybe worth the effort and expense.

~Heff



posted on Jan, 30 2013 @ 12:46 PM
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reply to post by tothetenthpower
 


Thanks for the reply 10th - yes the tar sands...I recall a lot of debate over its viability, yet, there it is.
And now we have this 'fracking' business and it is deemed acceptable to pump the waste back into the ground were it may and has, contaminated aquifers. This is the kind of practice that seems to be prevalent throughout industry. Take it now and toss our trash where it is convenient (and legal in most cases) rather than at least attempting to contain the offenses or bring it into some sort of circle.

I have to potentially agree with Wrabbit2000's thought here and that is there is some sort of equilibrium attained.
Some species are definitely affected more by subtle changes in chemistry than others though.

Using membranes to catch the ions seems quite feasible, I apologize, I somehow thought it was to be some sort of dredging process.

I was always impressed with this old ad during the beginnings of the environmental awareness that began back in the 60's:



posted on Jan, 30 2013 @ 02:46 PM
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reply to post by explorer14
 


Don't even get me started on this whole fracking business.

They tried that crap here in NB and got so much pressure they canned their own project. A win for the people if you ask me.

~Tenth



posted on Jan, 30 2013 @ 08:09 PM
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Hey tenth, I noticed something here. You mention they can extract 40 million tons of the mineral rich mud a year, how much of that mud actually contains the minerals in question? I suppose the processes to extract these minerals is available and it would make more sense to process element rich mud where these elements could have been deposited in larger quantities over time. The water itself has such small quantities, so the mud is definitely the right way to go.


Now what, I'm going to get at here, is the percentage of waste vs product. In strip mining of gold, millions of tons of " useless " earth is removed to get to " pay dirt" Then tons of pay dirt are processed to produce ounces of gold. Gold mining in and of itself is an extremely costly mining operation, and has enormous impacts to the environment and the ecosystems the deposits lay under.

Collecting 40 million tons of " sea mud" could be a potential hazard to ocean life in the area, as well as those creatures that live in that mud. Not that it's not a good idea, but it could cause unintended upheavals of those ecosystems. Even the microscopic organisms dwelling in that mud, feed filter feeds, and smaller organisms that stretch up to the very top as food for another.

Outside of direct ecosystem impairment, pollution of some kind is inevitable, both from the machines/equipment required to collect said mud, as well as process it. Various under water deposits of harmful pollutants, collected underneath, on, or in the mud itself could be stirred up as well, putting forth potential hazards for the ecosystem as well as fishing in these areas. I know not everyone cares about these things, nor thinks of them when dollars of this extreme are involved, but I like to think new processes of the future, would be less economically impacting and sustainable as time moves on. Just a thought, I'm sure a process could be found that could limit these factors.

Another point, is this process cost effective. Extracting minute quantities in comparison to the raw mud, would be extremely costly. With nearly every mineral, element and compound found with in our oceans and likely the mud itself the refining process would be an enormous task. Nearly every useable element could be found with in the mud, requiring an equal number of processes to extract them all, regardless if that's the goal product. These processes in and of themselves would be extremely costly, as well as potential hazardous waste after the fact. You mentioned the use of acids to extract the minerals, those acids would have to be treated with more chemicals to reduce acidity and so on to remove any harmful chemicals, or if not potentially being left with millions of tons of waste that has to go somewhere.

i suppose the question really is, are there sufficient quantities of minerals there to fund the extraction of those minerals through the processes? Would the waste be treated, or moved somewhere else? Would the process be sustainable. You mention with the increased yield in rare earth minerals their cost would become less, and produce cheaper products, in doing so your raw material loses value and the process could become more costly than it's yield.

If the process were to extract all the minerals it could sustain itself, dealing in all the extracted materials, as well as a potential use for " Waste." Materials would be nearly endless if the process could be refined to extract all the materials and put them to use. It's a brilliant idea, but is the potential damage to the economy through flooding the market viable? Chances are a company investing in such technology would not be interested in anything but the most valuable raw material so chances are we would have yet another massive potential hazard to the environment as well as existing renewable sources, like fisheries, or farming in the area due to potential pollutants.

Just my thoughts, unique, potentially earth changing if put to use in the right way, the question remains what is the right way.



posted on Jan, 31 2013 @ 02:33 AM
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reply to post by tothetenthpower
 


think this was already done a while ago

www.newgeology.com...

^^ j/k


"So as that article states, using existing technologies, we could mine 40 million tons of the stuff. That would drastically change the landscape of many industries."

yah but would it reduce costs? probably not

so what will happen is a bunch of contracts will be given out, they will pour some of the most toxic chemicals into the ocean, make a profit off of it, not tell anyone of the dangers for 50 years after everyone is retired. and in the end the little people get screwed again

just look at fracking
earth quakes, gas explosions, dangerous chemicals being stored in old mine shafts, abandoned wells, or just being sprayed right back into the earth. no real regulation on it till some citiy explodes into tiny pieces, or sinks into the ground.

THEN THERE WILL BE REGULATIONS

even if they go bacteria route, as soon as they find out how long it takes, they will switch to chemicals, you can bet the chinese will anyways.



posted on Jan, 31 2013 @ 09:34 AM
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Mining in space is the best idea. The government is stupid to not pursue mining asteroids and such



posted on Jan, 31 2013 @ 11:55 AM
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They could develop this membrane tech and put it to good use in the Fukushima area...



posted on Jan, 31 2013 @ 04:38 PM
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If you were to extract chemicals out of the ocean, would there also be a possibility of changing that salt water into fresh water also, via either reverse osmosis, or by evaporation? Therefore, we can get the rare earth elements out of the ocean, but also get fresh water as well to fill our depleted water reserves, and use the salt to put on my crackers!



posted on Jan, 31 2013 @ 06:59 PM
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reply to post by ethang10
 


Nasa's newest rocket is expected to cost $500 million dollars per launch. Payload to GTO, which is the highest orbit shuttles are launched in recent years is 3,810kg. So I would imagine, leaving Earth's orbit all together would be even less than that.

Maximum payload to return to Earth, is 14, 400kg...

Now, That isn't very much. The shuttle would have to launch for it's mission to the asteroid carrying all the equipment, food, fuel, air necessary to sustain the Astronauts, as well as carry out their mining mission on said Asteroid. Chances are they could only carry minimal equipment capable of collecting samples or small amounts of material, again, a portion of that 14, 400kg of return weight would again be air, food, equipment and samples. There isn't enough payload space to carry enough material for this to be profitable in any way. $500 million just to launch the rocket, not the astronauts wages, not the cost of equipment to attempt to collect samples from the asteroid, not the cost of food. Even if you ditched all the equipment on the rock, and assuming your 14, 400kg of cargo space didn't include your food, fuel, air etc. 14, 400 kg of raw material unprocessed is not going to provide enough valuable material to come anywhere close to a profit.

Space mining is something far in our future. The current means of getting off the Earth, and getting back just isn't a viable means to transport such vast amounts of material. The cost alone is enormous, and to set up some sort of mining facility on an asteroid is dangerous and costly in itself. You would need shuttles coming in bringing supplies(air, fuel, equipment, food, water, fresh miners.) As well as shuttles coming for the sole purpose of transporting material back to earth. It's just beyond viable with our current means of propulsion, and sustainability in space.






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