Andrew Thaler for the DSM Observer
Late last month, DeepGreen announced its plan to enter into a reverse merger with special purpose acquisition company Sustainable Opportunities Acquisition Corporation to create The Metals Company. Special purpose acquisition companies are publicly traded investment entities that allow private companies to go public through acquisition, rather than through a traditional IPO. The new company, whose creation comes with additional investments from Allseas, Maersk Supply Service, and others, will be valued at $2.9 billion. The Metals Company will continue DeepGreen’s mission of developing the polymetallic nodule resources of the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone.
Sourcing battery metal, especially nickel and cobalt, is one of the biggest barriers to the green energy transition. Though cobalt has held the spotlight in the deep-sea mining press, Gerard Barron, CEO of DeepGreen, who will remain on as head of The Metals Company, explains that their focus has always been nickel. “The [electric vehicle] industry has doubled down on nickel and I think that more and more in the coming period, people are going to start asking questions about the [environmental, social, governance] impact of extracting more nickel, and if we leave it the way it is, it’s horrible. Because it’s not just the process of collecting nodules, or mining on land, or processing on land, it’s the [life cycle assessment] impacts. It’s about where did you get it from, how much sequestered carbon was impacted, what can you use that land for, when will it be available to sequester carbon again in the future?”
DSMObserver Correspondent Maria Bolevich published a deep dive into life cycle analysis and DeepGreen’s recent LCA report in this issue: Life Cycle Assessment will Play an Important in Decision Making for Deep-sea Mining.
The SOAC/DeepGreen merger does not include the acquisition of any equipment, resources, or licenses currently held by the now-defunct Nautilus Minerals, though some initial reports suggested that the acquisition would include the Solwara I mining prospect or the Seafloor Production Tools built by Soil Machine Dynamics for Nautilus Minerals and currently stored in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. “I can categorically say we have no interest in seafloor massive sulphides,” says Barron.
Despite the global pandemic, DeepGreen conducted four environmental research campaigns to the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone in 2020. The first environmental campaign of 2021 is underway at the time of writing and was met at sea earlier this month by protestors from Greenpeace, who are campaigning for a moratorium on deep-sea mining until the environmental impacts are better understood. “We’ve been studying this since the 1960’s. We know a lot about this part of the ocean” says Barron. “If you stop the science, then you don’t get the answers, and of course that’s the exciting part of what we’re doing.”
Barron is confident that the ongoing environmental research campaign will continue to support DeepGreen’s mission. “We continue to operate with a very high degree of certainty that this is what we should be doing,” he says.
Over the next year, major developments are in store for DeepGreen. The finalization of the reverse merger and transformation into The Metals Company will, according to Barron, provide them with the funding needed to get to the other side of first production. The harvester should be completed and ready for sea trials by the end of 2021. But it’s the research campaigns that Barron appears most excited by. “More science, more science, more science,” he concludes.
Featured Image: header from the DeepGreen/The Metals Company Fact Sheet