Deep Sea Minerals - Vol 3 - Cobalt-rich Ferromanganese Crusts - page 5

On the slopes of submarine mountains around the world, minerals precipitate out of the seawa-
ter to form thin crusts on rocky surfaces. The crusts are commonly called ferromanganese crusts,
reflecting the fact that their major constituents are iron (Fe) and manganese (Mn), although a
host of other minerals occur in them in smaller amounts, including cobalt - which is why they are
also often called ‘cobalt-rich crusts’ or ‘cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts’. Many of these miner-
als have potential economic value.
The ferromanganese crusts of the Pacific have been of interest for some time. During the 20-year
period from 1980 to 2000, more than 40 research cruises investigated aspects of the formation and
character of ferromanganese crusts (Cronan 1984; Hodkinson and Cronan 1991; Hein
et al
.; 2000).
Ferromanganese crusts are partially made up of valuable cobalt, nickel, and manganese. Addition-
ally, crusts are seen as a potential source of the rare earth elements and other in-demand metals
that are increasingly used in high technology and green technology industries. However, mining the
crusts has been considered more technically challenging than mining other deep sea deposits, such
as manganese nodules or sea-floor massive sulphides, and this has slowed development. The crusts
can be firmly attached to the underlying rock, and technological solutions are required to design a
process to retrieve them while minimizing the collection of non-mineralised waste rock (ISA 2002).
The Chinese government has been active in exploration and development through the China
Ocean Mineral Resources Association (COMRA). It submitted an application to the International
Seabed Authority (ISA) to exploit cobalt-rich ferromanganese crust deposits in a 3 000 square
kilometre area of the Western Pacific (ISA 2012). COMRA, the largest producer of land-based rare
earth minerals, began surveying marine cobalt-rich crust resources in 1997. The Government of
Japan, through the Japan Oil, Gas, and Metals National Corporation (JOGNEC), also submitted
an application to the ISA to exploit cobalt-rich ferromanganese crust deposits in an equivalently
sized area just north of the area of Chinese interest. These applications were considered and
approved by the ISA at the ninteenth annual session in July 2013.
Ferromanganese crusts are most enriched with cobalt and other metals in shallow-water sites (800
to 2 500 metres water depth). In the Pacific, therefore, commercial prospects are likely to be concen-
trated within the sovereign waters of Pacific states. To support Pacific Islands in governing and devel-
oping these natural resources, SOPAC division of SPC is providing a range of information products,
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