This seabed mining UAV has completed its proof of concept operation

"Eureka 1" is an innovative underwater drone that can collect rare minerals from the seafloor without causing too much damage to the ecosystem.
Christopher McFadden

Impossible Metals has announced in a press release that "Eureka 1," its first autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), has finished its first field test by carefully choosing pebbles to collect in an aquatic environment. This is a big step for the company, which wants to move toward a green economy by finding better ways to mine essential minerals.

This will be important because the demand for these metals will keep going up for the next few decades. This is especially the case as the world's population is growing, more people are moving to cities, emerging market economies are growing, and people are switching to carbon-free energy sources.

All of this puts a massive strain on mining activities and will lead to a rise in demand for traditional and new ways to get raw materials.

Oliver Gunasekara, CEO and Co-Founder, said, "this shallow water milestone shows the progress of our principles to avoid serious damage to the seabed by replacing dredging technology with an alternative that stops biodiversity loss and large sediment plumes."

This seabed mining UAV has completed its proof of concept operation
Part of the Impossible Metals team with Eureka 1

According to its press release, Impossible Metals needs to create three key technologies to make this method of collecting polymetallic nodules rich in important battery metals work: a buoyancy engine, a fast underwater robotic arm, and an AI-driven computer vision system to find nodules and marine life on them.

“The success of this first proof of concept is a major milestone for the company toward demonstrating the technical feasibility of using an autonomous, AI-driven system to hover above the seabed and selectively harvest nodules,” said Jason Gillham, CTO and Co-Founder.

Plans to make the technology ready for widespread use by 2026 will change the economics of critical rare metal resources in a way that is good for global supply chains. This is also a big step forward for sustainable essential metals.

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Why are they looking for metals under the sea?

Due to the exhaustion of high-grade mines, land ore grades for various metals have dramatically declined. This is for multiple reasons, but the growing demand for electric vehicles and battery metal will likely become scarce by 2025.

To date, land-based mining has unacceptably adverse impacts on the environment. This includes, but is not limited to, the deforestation in the Indonesian rainforests to child labor in some African countries, an increase in toxic tailings dam failures, the forced relocation of communities, water shortages, and the destruction of large areas of habitat are all factors that are making the effects of metals mined from land worse and making it less likely that new land-based mines will be approved.

Not only that but minerals used in batteries are often found in places like China and Russia, where trade has been risky and supplies have been unstable. Without safe and reliable sources, countries like the USA cannot switch to a green economy, and the lack of essential mineral supplies will worsen national security problems.

To get to grips with this, Impossible Metals wants to get essential battery metals from the seabed and refine them in a way that doesn't harm the environment. This will help the world switch to clean energy.

To do this, they are making underwater robots that protect the seabed's environment while mining important battery metals from the seabed. Hence its development of UAVs such as "Eureka 1."

What is Eureka 1?

Eureka 1 is Impossible Metal's first iteration of a family of robots that will harvest metal ore from the sea floor. Building on the success of this robot, Impossible Metal hopes to develop an AUV fleet that will use "pick and place" manipulator technology to collect nodules one at a time, causing the least disruption to the sediment and seafloor ecosystems.

The preservation of nodule-dependent fauna is made possible by image sensing technology, which will recognize any megafauna present on the nodules and leave those nodules alone.

According to Impossible Metals, this provides the following significant benefits over more traditional deep-sea mining techniques: -

  • Low environmental impacts: avoidance of the nodule fauna, absence of a sizable plume, absence of return water, and absence of effects on the fauna or structure of the sediment.
  • Scalable systems have no single point(s) of failure and can gradually increase from a modest production rate.

With a clear growing need for raw materials, like metal, in the future, any strategy and technology that can be developed and adopted to harvest metal ores in the least environmentally impactful and sustainable way will be welcomed.