Sand surrounds us–and while it may seem in infinite supply, it is not. Currently, sand is being used up much faster than it is being replenished. Sand and gravel, collectively known as aggregate, are the most widely extracted solid materials on Earth. A recent report by the United Nations Environment Programme recognizes sand as a strategic resource–and one with looming challenges.
Rich deposits of metals cover vast areas of deep ocean floors. Mining companies have focused on polymetallic nodules, and large-scale seafloor mining could begin by 2024. Given the potential for irreversible consequences to ocean environments and our climate, many are calling for a moratorium or a delay in this mining.
Opportunities from mining metals like manganese and cobalt to developing new drugs are being found by researchers who are examining our oceans more carefully. Polymetallic nodules, sometimes referred to as “a battery in a rock”, have attracted particular attention. By volume, the oceans provide an astonishing 99 percent of the planet’s living space. We have a lot to learn about these complex and fragile environments.
For thousands of years the ancient Andean people revered gold and created exquisite gold art objects. This ultimately led to the fall of the Inca Empire when the metal lured Spanish conquistadores high into the Andes. Gold continues to be mined today, with adverse consequences for the environment and many Andean people.
Electric vehicles (EVs) are the wave of the future. Improvements in lithium-ion battery packs are occurring rapidly and prices are falling. Obtaining sufficient lithium to meet the growth ahead for EV has a dark side, involving open-pit mining and brine evaporation pools that can be devastating for the environment. Fortunately, there is also a lighter side that is gaining momentum.