New Research Programme to Investigate Origins of E-tech Elements

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MarineE-tech, a new £4.2 million research programme will investigate the origins and formation of E-tech elements, such as cobalt and tellurium, and study the potential impacts of mineral extraction.

These elements are in short supply, yet they are formed through natural Earth processes and occur in high concentrations in the world’s ocean basins in metal rich deposits. HR Wallingford is part of MarineE-tech.

MarineE-tech, funded by NERC (UK) and FAPESP (Brazil), will assess deep ocean ferromanganese deposits, a major source of the elements that are essential for emerging renewable energy technologies and a low carbon society.

The MarineE-tech team are planning a research expedition to the northeast Atlantic next year to discover what controls the richness of the deep-sea deposits which arise on seamounts and assess novel exploration methods and potential effects of disturbance of these sensitive marine environments.

Technical Director, Dr Jez Spearman, is leading HR Wallingford’s contribution to MarineE-tech. He said: “This is a unique opportunity for us to study these crusts in situ, working at thousands of metres water depth. We are also crucially exploring sustainability issues around any extraction of these deposit, especially in the territories of small nation states with developing economies.”

HR Wallingford’s team will survey and monitor currents, water quality and sediment movement, including sediment plumes. Dr Spearman added: “The data we collect as part of the expedition will be used to further validate our current and sediment plume models. We will also consider what plumes might be generated from commercial extraction activities, and how these plumes might behave. This information will be used to help inform research in to the environmental impact of this type of operation.”

The Programme is led by the UK National Oceanography Centre and also includes the University of Bath, the British Geological Survey, the University of Sao Paulo (Brazil), the South Pacific Island Communities, the United Nations’ International Seabed Authority, Gardline Ltd, and Soil Machine Dynamics Ltd.

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