As the world moves to electric vehicles to reduce carbon emissions, there is a major challenge that is not solved yet and one that could really put a halt to efforts of electrification of transportation. EV batteries use rare metals that are mined in highly non-sustainable ways. A Vancouver-based company wants to change it using its innovatively made robot.
As power sources for electric vehicles, batteries need to deliver on multiple counts. They need to hold high amounts of charge, be as light as possible and charge as quickly as possible. Previous generation batteries such as those made out of lead do not deliver on these criteria and most of the battery development has focused on lithium-ion batteries. Apart from lithium, they also need other rare elements like nickel, cobalt, manganese that are currently sourced by mining them from the ground.
While scientists are researching alternate methods to power these batteries, the pressure to switch to less carbon-generating modes of transport is higher than ever before. Vancouver-based Metals Company claims that they have found an alternative to mining these elements and that exists a few thousand feet underwater.
In the Pacific Ocean, 500 miles (800 km) off the coast of Hawaii, lies the Clarion Clipperton Zone which is home to the largest polymetallic nodule deposits. Formed over millions of years, these deposits contain large amounts of iron and manganese hydroxides along with copper, nickel, and cobalt. According to the estimates from the Metals company, these deposits could help in powering 280 million EV, a quarter of the global EV requirement.
Instead of using traditional means such as blasting or excavation to access these minerals, the company wants to use a giant vacuum cleaner robot that will simply pick up these rocks, with minimal damage to the seabed. The robot will pump these rocks to the production support vehicle that floats on the surface of the sea. The processing of the rocks will be done at off-shore facilities, the company claims. The first generation version of the robot is currently being built and will undergo testing next year.
If all goes well, there would be better access to these much-needed rare elements.