A DARLINGTON company is developing a new way to collect a source of metals, critical for the electric vehicle industry, from the seabed – creating a new sector in the North-East and more than 2,500 jobs.
Enshore Subsea is developing new solutions to responsibly recover minerals, essential for electric vehicle batteries, from the ocean floor.
This new industry has the potential to create a billion-pound-a-year market in the North-East, supporting thousands of local jobs which have been backed by Darlington MP Peter Gibson and Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen.
The subsea engineering company, based in Darlington and Blyth, has completed trials in the Pacific Ocean, in partnership with DeepGreen Metals, Inc., developing a new process to safely collect polymetallic nodules.
Polymetallic nodules are small rock concretions containing high concentrations of manganese, copper, cobalt and nickel. Significant volumes can be found in sea beds, which Enshore says is enough to provide battery materials to electrify the world’s fleet of vehicles many times over.
Working in partnership with fellow North-East based OSBIT, a specialist engineering company, Enshore, which has 25 years of expertise in subsea operations, designed and fabricated its first Seabed Mineral Collector.
The firm recently completed a first phase project in the Clarion Clipperton Zone, between Hawaii and Mexico in the Pacific Ocean, recovering more than 75 tonnes of the metal.
The UK is among a few pioneering countries that have substantial seabed exploration rights, providing the opportunity to develop a new industry bringing significant benefits to the North-East.
Enshore says, with the right level of investment and essential government support, the recovery of seabed minerals could sustain more than 2,500 highly skilled jobs in the region within a £1 billion-per-year high technology industry.
Polymetallic nodules also mitigates concerns connected with conventional land-based mining as they are made up of "effectively 100 per cent usable" materials, and do not require digging, drilling or blasting.
Currently, electric vehicle battery elements are mined in regions of high biodiversity such as Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central Africa.
Research shows that minerals such as nickel, cobalt and copper can be processed from polymetallic nodules with a fraction of the environmental and social impacts compared to current terrestrial mining practices.
In the next stage of research and development, a 50 per cent scale harvesting system will be designed and trialled in the Pacific by 2022.
Pierre Boyde, managing director of Enshore Subsea said: “This is a once in a generation opportunity for the UK, and the North-East in particular, to create a viable and sustainable new industry that supports the electric vehicle revolution while providing an alternative to conventional and destructive land-based mining.
“We have the technical skills and management expertise in this country to deliver this process, but we are in an international race against countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands.
“We have the experience in the UK to be a world leader and support from the Government will be essential for our emerging industry to gain traction and in return, generate the jobs and investment to boost our regional and national economies.
“Our first stage operations in the Pacific both confirm key parts of our sustainable recovery method and demonstrate the innovation and creativity of North East England’s engineering and subsea cluster of companies to deliver a solution that will have far-reaching social, economic and environmental benefits.”
Darlington MP Peter Gibson said: “I am delighted to see further innovation from Enshore Subsea who are at the forefront of their sector.
"Enshore Subsea's continued innovation, investment, and ingenuity is a symbol of all that is great about businesses based here in the heart of the North-East and the continued commitment to Darlington is great news for good quality, well paid employment in our town.”
Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said: “It is extremely exciting that Enshore's new innovative work has the potential to create thousands of local jobs in Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool, making us a world leader in this pioneering industry, pumping billions of pounds into our economy.
“I have always believed my region has lead the way when it comes to innovation and new technologies, and this is being emphasised with the work we are doing on the site of the South Tees Development Corporation and the high quality local jobs that go with it, which we can now get on with now we have secured the land after winning compulsory purchase proceedings against SSI.
“This is another example of a great global business making Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool their home and putting out region on the global stage for the fantastic work they do. Once again, the Tees Valley is leading the way.”
Enshore are a division of DeepOcean, who will soon be relocating to office space in Feethams House in Darlington.