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Luise Britta Heinrich

Institution: Jacobs University of Bremen
Room: Research III, Room 100a
Phone: +49 421 200 - 3251
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Other webpage(s): Luise's JU web page


Luise Heinrich

PhD project:

Assessing the potential synergistic effects of deep-sea mining in comparison to onshore mining – Sourcing nickel from deep-sea manganese nodules and onshore laterite ore deposits

My PhD project aims at providing an integrated assessment of the potential direct and indirect environmental, economic and social implications of deep-sea mining in comparison to onshore mining.

Nickel is a key resource for the manufacturing of stainless steel, batteries and metal alloys. As such, it plays a major role in a variety of economic sectors ranging from general industry and electronic applications to architecture and transport. While most of the terrestrial nickel is contained in laterite ores, the majority of the resource is currently obtained from sulfide deposits, which are easier and thus cheaper to refine. With increasing nickel demand and declining resource availability at the same time, future demand is, however, likely to be met with nickel sourced from laterite ore deposits instead. In comparison to nickel from sulfide deposits, nickel from laterite ore deposits is of lower grade which implies that a larger quantity of source material needs to be extract it to receive the same amount of nickel. Moreover, nickel from laterite ore deposits is extracted from open-pit mines with direct consequences for the environment and surrounding communities. In an attempt to meet future demand, overcome environmental problems and gain independent access to these valuable raw materials, research has started to explore the possibility of deep-sea mining. For my project I will focus on manganese nodules, which are rock spheres, composed of alternating concentric layers of iron and manganese hydroxide, which formed around a core on the sea floor. Besides Fe (~13.8%) and Mn (ca. 19.0%) manganese nodules contain various elements, including Cu (0.55%), Co (~0.28%) and Ni (0.46%). To date, manganese nodules have only been extracted for research purposes. Current mining scenarios involve the use of a remotely-operated crawler ploughing the sea floor and pumping up nodules to a production support vessel located at the sea surface. As case study areas I will look at New Caledonia for onshore and the Clarion-Clipperton Zone in the Pacific Ocean for offshore mining.

The main research question that I attempt to answer with my project is “Is nickel recovery from deep-sea manganese nodules in comparison to nickel sourced from onshore laterite ore deposits economically feasible taking into account the direct and indirect economic, environmental and social costs and benefits associated with the mining activity?” Prior to this I intend to answer the following questions that are a prerequisite to the main research question: “How does deep-sea mining affect the deep-sea? How can you value the deep-sea ecosystem? “, „ How can you identify and value goods and services provided by the deep-sea ecosystem and potentially affected by mining activities?” and „How can you connect terrestrial and marine environmental mining impacts in a meaningful way?”.

To answer the aforementioned questions, I will use a combination of ecosystem valuation, conceptual and qualitative modeling, and systems theory in order to analyze the environmental and social costs and benefits related to onshore and offshore mining activities. In addition to this I plan to use Life Cycle (Inventory) Analysis to estimate the costs and benefits associated with each step of the mining process. I will also investigate if and to what extend it is possible to combine environmental and social LC(I)As into a joint assessment. As deep-sea mining is not done commercially yet and is thus characterized by a high level of uncertainty I will use scenario planning to compare potential scenarios of onshore and offshore mining.

Thesis committee:

Prof. Dr. Andrea Koschinsky-Fritsche Jacobs University Bremen
Prof. Dr. Herrmann Kudrass Bundesanstalt für Geowissenschaften und Rohstoffe (BGR)
Prof. Dr. Karen Smith Stegen Jacobs University Bremen
Prof. Dr. Wolf Werner Jacobs University Bremen
Prof. Dr. Michael Bau Jacobs University Bremen
GLOMAR Research Theme D