As India makes its push towards self-reliance, the demand for key metals, minerals and rare earths is set to grow exponentially. If deep sea mining becomes a success, it can ensure end-to-end supply chain resilience.
A structural shift is in play with supply chains shifting out of China, and Modi government is recognizing a once in a century opportunity to boost domestic manufacturing on the back of it. To become a manufacturing hub, decoupling from raw material sources which are otherwise held captive by foreign state-run oligopolies is crucial, and taking cognizance of this, New Delhi is pushing to explore deep sea mining. India already holds exploration licenses from the International Seabed Authority (ISA), a UN body which regulates mining in international waters. In 2018, the government decided to allocate $1.1 billion spread over five years, to the “Deep Ocean Mission” for furthering this effort, investing in exploration and technology development for extraction.
Polymetallic sulphide nodules mined from the seabed are rich in zinc, copper, tin and lead, with minor components of precious metals like gold and silver as well as minerals like selenium, indium and gallium. Importantly, rare earth elements (REEs) are found in abundance. Ferromanganese crusts, on the other hand, are largely composed of cobalt, with traces of molybdenum, vanadium and platinum. From mobile phones to batteries and from industrial equipment to healthcare devices, the applications of these “critical metals” are numerous, especially in an increasingly digitized world that is simultaneously going green.