The past 20 years have been characterised by limited interest in the economic viability of deep seabed mining with the exception of those mineral ores rich in precious metals such as polymetallic sulphides. This paper goes against the tide. After reviewing the most significant literature, it compares the economic feasibility of mining polymetallic manganese nodules and cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts in a scenario of mutual exclusivity. It uses a new indicator, the cobalt–nickel price ratio, whose aim is to verify at what metal prices the net present value of the two mining projects equalises. Previous research has shown that the turning margin between manganese nodules and cobalt crusts is a cobalt price of $50/kg. The present paper revises this by showing that the choice between mining crust and nodules depends on fluctuations in the price of nickel. A Monte Carlo simulation proves that cobalt crust mining could be reasonably preferred to manganese nodules at cobalt prices of $40–60/kg if the price of nickel fell below $11/kg. Within this condition, investors would receive the minimum acceptable internal rate of return of 15%, which is at a level of risk closer to the land-based mining. However, when the price of nickel passes the $11/kg threshold, the equilibrium between the two ventures can be reached only at a cobalt price greater than $100/kg, causing cobalt crust to become uncompetitive. Finally, the paper, recognising that prices are not unique drivers, introduces legal, political, technological and environmental concerns to show that the final choice between the two mining ventures cannot be merely driven by economic issues.
Martino, S., & Parson, L. M. (2012). A comparison between manganese nodules and cobalt crust economics in a scenario of mutual exclusivity. Marine Policy, 36(3), 790-800. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2011.11.008