Home » Archive News In Brief » News in Brief 2023 » News in Brief 01_2023 » NORI and Allseas lift over 3,000 t of polymetallic nodules to surface
Fig. 1. Over 3,000 t of seafloor polymetallic nodules were transported to the surface production vessel in a first integrated system test in the Clarion Clipperton Zone (CCZ) of the Pacific Ocean since the 1970s. Photo: TCM

NORI and Allseas lift over 3,000 t of polymetallic nodules to surface

The Metals Company Inc. (TMC), Vancouver/Canada, an explorer of the world’s largest estimated undeveloped source of critical battery metals, announced on 14th November 2022 that its subsidiary NORI and offshore partner Allseas have successfully concluded the first integrated system test in the Clarion Clipperton Zone (CCZ) of the Pacific Ocean since the 1970s, achieving all significant pilot milestones while collecting approximately 4,500 t of seafloor polymetallic nodules. Over 3,000 t were transported up a 4.3 km long riser system to the surface production vessel, Hidden Gem (Figure 1), while the additional 1,500 t of nodules were purposely left behind on the seafloor as part of the trials.

Following initial pilot system commissioning tests, the team of 130 crew and engineers aboard the Hidden Gem conducted a series of production runs in NORI-D test area to assess the system’s endurance prior to further development into a small-scale commercial system. Driving the pilot nodule collector over 80 km, Allseas engineers put the system through a series of tests achieving a sustained production rate of 86.4 t/h, roughly equivalent to transporting the mass of 40 Tesla Model S vehicles up the 4.3 km riser pipe every 60 min. The pilot system is expected to be scaled up to include additional collector heads and a wider diameter riser pipe in preparation for NORI’s Project Zero, which will target a production rate of over 200 t/h.

Concurrently, aboard a dedicated monitoring vessel, marine experts and academic scientists conducted the first monitoring program of an integrated pilot collector system test. The team used remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) to survey, monitor and sample the sediment plumes generated by collector operations on the seafloor as well as the mid-water discharge of water from the riser system used to transport nodules from seafloor to the Hidden Gem. The team deployed an array of over 50 subsea sensors on seafloor landers and mid-water moorings to continually monitor sediment plumes and noise generated by the nodule collection operations. The ongoing monitoring program will continue to survey environmental impacts and produce valuable scientific data after the conclusion of the collector system test.

With the technology trials complete, the marine research teams will remain on-site to recover the landers and moorings deployed for the collector test monitoring program and will undertake post-collection surveys to compare the status of the seafloor environment before and after the test. Once complete, the collection system test monitoring program will represent the single largest simultaneous environmental impact monitoring study ever conducted in the CCZ. The data collected, together with many terabytes of existing baseline data collected by NORI throughout 16 offshore campaigns, will form the basis of NORI’s application to the International Seabed Authority (ISA) for an exploitation contract, which TMC expects to be ready for submission in the second half of 2023.

TMC and NORI expect that the findings from the rich data gathered during the trials will be published in scientific literature in 2023, in what is expected to be a significant expansion of their understanding of the deep-sea ecosystem in the CCZ where 17 of the 19 nodule exploration contracts awarded by the ISA are located.

In September 2022, NORI announced that it received the ISA’s recommendation to commence its pilot nodule collection system trials in the CCZ after its review of the Collector Test Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Collector Test Environmental Monitoring and Management Plan (EMMP). While several ISA contractors including BGR (Germany), GSR (Belgium) and NIOT (India) have successfully conducted trials of prototype nodule collectors in recent years, the conclusion of NORI’s tests marks the first time an integrated nodule collection system – including a riser system – has been tested in the CCZ since the 1970s, when oil, gas, mining and industrial majors including Shell, bp, Rio Tinto (Kennecott), US Steel, INCO (Vale) and Sumitomo successfully conducted pilot test work, collecting approximately 2,000 t of nodules.

In March 2022, NORI and Allseas agreed that the pilot nodule collection system would be upgraded by Allseas to a commercial system with a targeted production capacity of 1.3 Mt/a of wet nodules and expected production readiness by Q4 2024. (TCM/Si.)