The Metals Company, a Vancouver-based seafloor polymetallic nodules exploration firm has partnered with Danish architecture company Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) to design a new generation of robotic vehicles, vessels and processing plants they will use to supply battery metals needed for the shift to a net-zero carbon future.
BIG has delivered an integrated suite of assets that work together to lift nodules off the seafloor and up to a purpose-built production vessel, transfer them to a hydrodynamic shuttle carrier, and onward to a metallurgical plant designed to transform an urban port site into a battery materials innovation and community hub, set within a regenerative coastal landscape.
“To collect the nodules, we have designed a light-touch, robotic collector vehicle that aims a jet of seawater across the tops of the rocks to gently pry them from the sediment.,” said Daniel Sundlin, partner at BIG and partner in charge of the collaboration with The Metals Company.
The Metals Company’s first-generation collector vehicle has been engineered and is currently being built by Allseas in the Netherlands to be deployed for testing early next year.
Nodules are transported through a flexible hose at the top of the collector vehicle to a rigid riser pipe where they are lifted on compressed air bubbles around 4 km up to the surface production vessel, a 216-meter-long ship that should run on carbon-neutral electrofuels, with a sunken deck that is covered with solar panels.
At scale, each production vessel would operate multiple collectors with additional maintenance capacity provided by a support vessel with a moon pool for deploying and retrieving collector vehicles.
While The Metals Company’s first production vessel is a deep-water drillship repurposed by Allseas to enable pilot nodule collection, with BIG’s next generation vessel design The Metals Company plans to scale to a fleet of 10 production vessels.
At full-scale operations, nodules will be transferred from the production vessels to shuttle carriers. Once at port, the nodules are offloaded onto a conveyor and into a portside processing plant – designed by BIG as a sustainable, performative and social campus in a regenerative landscape that turns conventional metallurgy on its head, The Metals Company said.
“Deep-water ports around the world are often degraded ecosystems unwelcoming to local communities. We asked BIG to reimagine what a metals-processing facility could be, to have it integrate with — even remediate — the urban coastal environment,” said The Metals Company chairman and CEO, Gerard Barron.
BIG designed The Metals Company’s circular, zero-solid-waste metallurgical plant to contain pyrometallurgical processing and hydrometallurgical refining steps, stockpiles, and product storage alongside offices, visitor-centric experiences, and an innovation center to tie products into the EV supply chain.
The company envisions multiple facilities spread across three continents and a number of brownfield sites are currently under consideration. These plants would in time be retooled to recycle battery cathodes at end-of-life, closing the loop on the battery metals supply chain.
“We’re remaking how society gets, uses and ultimately re-uses the base metals which form the foundation of the clean energy economy,” said Barron. “BIG has delivered these radical, low-impact designs to help us remake an industry. Now the exciting question is, which port will we transform first?”
The Metals Company is a merger between DeepGreen Metals and US-based Sustainable Opportunities Acquisition Corporation (SOAC), which plans to go public on the Nasdaq in Q2 2021.