Minerals, such as rare earth metals, are increasingly becoming an important commodity in a resource-constrained world economy. As a result new frontiers both onshore and offshore, to the depths of the ocean, are emerging around the world.
Top Pentagon contractor Lockheed Martin is adapting many of the technologies it developed for the government to commercial ventures at sea, including the external fuel-tank technology used on the Space Shuttle.
Mining's next frontier is proving tricky to navigate. Last week a British company became the latest firm to announce its intention to mine the seabed. However, it is still unclear how deep-sea mining will affect the oceans.
David Cameron has pledged to put Britain at the forefront of a new international seabed mining industry, which he claimed could be worth £40bn to the UK economy over the next 30 years. But the prime minister has chosen an American defence company – Lockheed Martin – to spearhead the drive to collect from the depths of the ocean the copper, nickel and rare earth minerals used in mobile phones and solar panels.
New marine research finds are fueling a gold rush as nations, companies and entrepreneurs race to stake claims to the sulfide-rich areas, which dot the volcanic springs of the frigid seabed. The prospectors — motivated by dwindling resources on land as well as record prices for gold and other metals — are busy hauling up samples and assessing deposits valued at trillions of dollars.
The author challenges the recent discovery of Rare Earth Elements in the seabed by noting that there are still a number of technical, financial, and political challenges that have to be overcome before mining these deposits are economically viable.