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China eyes developing deep-sea mining tech by 2030

By Tuo Yannan, Wang Qian (China Daily)

13:30, May 29, 2012

BEIJING, May 29 (Xinhuanet) -- Commercial deep-sea mining by China of polymetallic nodules that contain copper, nickel and cobalt among other key minerals, can begin as early as 2030, according to the former head of the State Oceanic Administration.

"With the improvement in deep-sea technology, metal resources under the ocean can be explored and mined within 20 years," said Sun Zhihui.

Last year, China was among the first group of countries approved by the International Seabed Authority to look for polymetallic sulphide deposits, a recently discovered mineral source, in the Southwest Indian Ridge, a tectonic plate boundary on the bed of the Indian Ocean, he said, adding the country is applying to explore for cobalt in a new area in the Pacific Ocean.

Sun said many countries are developing technologies for commercial mining, but a low-cost method of mining polymetallic nodules has not been found yet.

China has explored more than 80,000 square kilometers of the floor of the Pacific and Indian oceans, Sun said.

Xiang Jianhai, researcher at the Institute of Oceanology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said: "When we can carry out commercial mining depends on technological development, financial support and the price of key minerals on the market."

Xiang added that current exploration, such as that carried out by China's manned deep-sea vessel Jiaolong, will provide the technology and geological information for future mining.

He added the extent of the country's deep-sea exploration was catching up with that of advanced countries. Scientists estimate that about 480 million to 13.5 billion tons of polymetallic nodules can be commercially mined, Science and Technology Daily reported.

Polymetallic nodules are rock concretions, mostly about the size of a potato, on the seabed containing metals such as cobalt, manganese, iron, nickel and aluminum, which have huge economic potential.

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