The precious metals found in the deep sea polymetallic nodules are crucial to fulfilling global green energy goals. There is no question that many land-based mining practices have been fraught with ecological impact, human rights violations, and extraction-focused ethics concerns.

Responsible seabed mining offers an opportunity to break away from the dependency on terrestrial mining and work towards future carbon neutrality. For Impossible Metals, the pursuit of planet-friendly energy resources starts with a robotics innovation that is an arm (and a leg) ahead of the competition. The arm design selected is unique to the subsea environment and allows for rapid collection of nodules while achieving two main objectives: The selective harvesting leaves nodule life that is observed undisturbed, and minimizes disruption of the sediment ecosystem. These two outcomes combine to ensure the habitat and fauna left behind are protected from either direct disturbance, or any significant silt or sediment plume.

In combination with image sensing technology, the arm utilizes “pick and place” manipulation, allowing the system to identify megafauna present on the nodules and leave them behind. This degree of sensitivity revolutionizes undersea mining, placing the planet before profits (while also yielding a substantial harvest at superior economics). 

Three Fingers of Precision

Alternative dredging technology indiscriminately collects all nodules destroying life in its path. The dredging approach also kicks up massive sediment plumes disrupting nodules and life left behind where there is an attempt at protection.

To do better, we knew that selective pickup of the nodules with arms was a solution, as the current arm technology used in the subsea industry didn’t meet the speed and precision requirements. The current models are optimized for high strength and slow speed work. These arms are often used in the offshore gas or oil industries. While they may get the job done, they lack the precision and speed to achieve the desired minimal ecological impacts. 

At Impossible Metals we developed our own arm solution to achieve a harvesting operation worthy of the 21st century. In current development is a new robotic arm never before used in the undersea environment. Inspired by robotics in industrial automation processes, this arm is a parallel robot (delta arm) where the actuators are stationary relative to the end effector, giving the arm the speed and precision that we require. This style allows for targeted actuation and minimal sediment disruption. With the delta arms attached to an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), the AUV will hover over the seabed surface, causing minimal impact. 

Low-Impact, Big Results 

This robotic arm is a key solution for undersea mining operations that seek to tread softly around delicate ecosystems. Impossible Metals believes in developing an approach that allows for sustainable and scalable models of nodule harvesting.  

As demand for electric-powered vehicles rises, the need for long-lasting batteries also does. The metals harvested in the deep sea with this unique arm innovation provide a far more sustainable option when compared to the ecosystem devastation caused by alternative dredging solutions subsea, and all forms of traditional land-based mining. This new robotic arm creates a low-impact, high-yield seabed mining solution, reducing: 

  • The disruption to delicate seafloor ecosystems

  • The occurrence of large sediment plumes

Planet-Friendly Business Model

Impossible Metals is led by the core value of “planet comes first.” While seeking solutions for the global energy crises, we don’t want to create additional negative environmental impacts. So instead, we provide solutions that can lead to circularity by valuing life (both in and out of the ocean). This new underwater arm creates the possibility of sustainably harvesting critical metals, leading the planet away from fossil fuels and into a greener future.