Meet the North East firm at the forefront of a new subsea sector which could support 2,500 jobs

A North East subsea engineering firm is developing new solutions for an emerging sector it says could create a £1bn a year market in the region, supporting thousands of jobs.

Enshore Subsea, which has bases at Darlington, County Durham, and Blyth, Northumberland, is at the forefront of the collection of minerals from the ocean floor which are essential for electric vehicle batteries.

The firm has carried out trials within the pioneering new industry in the Pacific Ocean in partnership with Canadian company DeepGreen Metals Inc, developing a new process to safely collect polymetallic nodules – a key source of metals critical for the growing electric vehicle industry.

Polymetallic nodules are small rock concretions containing high concentrations of manganese, copper, cobalt and nickel, and can be found in vast areas of the world’s sea beds in significant volumes, enough to provide battery materials to electrify the world’s fleet of vehicles many times over.

Now Enshore Subsea is taking the first steps in establishing this new sector for the region, working with Riding Mill based engineers Osbit to designed and build its first Seabed Mineral Collector, which completed a project in the Clarion Clipperton Zone of the Pacific Ocean, recovering more than 75 tonnes of polymetallic nodules.

Pierre Boyde, managing director of Enshore Subsea, explained how the UK is among a few pioneering countries with substantial seabed exploration rights, providing the perfect opportunity to develop a new industry and bring significant benefits to the North East.

The firm believes that, with investment and government support, the recovery of seabed minerals could sustain more than 2,500 highly skilled jobs in the region within a £1bn-per-year high technology industry.

Polymetallic nodules collected from the sea floor
(Image: Enshore)

He said: “This is a once in a generation opportunity for the UK, and the North East of England in particular, to create a viable and sustainable new industry, which 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.”

Currently, electric vehicle battery elements are mined in regions of high biodiversity such as Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central Africa but 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.

The nodules are comprised of effectively 100% usable materials, and since they sit atop the seabed they do not require digging, drilling or blasting to recover the critical minerals.

For the next stage of research and development, a 50% scale harvesting system is to be designed and fabricated and then trialled in the Pacific by 2022.

Mr Boyde said: “We have the experience in the UK to be a world leader in this market and support from the UK Government, both to aid research and development as well as export guarantees from UK Export Finance 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.”

He added: “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.”

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