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Japan to launch deep-sea cobalt and nickel mining near Ogasawara Islands in 2026

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Japan‘s ambitious plan to start mining cobalt and nickel near the remote Ogasawara Islands marks a significant step in securing critical raw materials necessary for various technological applications. The discovery of a vast deep-water deposit of ferromanganese nodules containing substantial quantities of cobalt and nickel near Minamitorishima Island, also known as Marcus Island, presents a promising opportunity to bolster the nation’s resource independence and economic security.

Key details of the project:

  1. Location and scale:
    • The deposit is situated in the vicinity of Minamitorishima Island, which is part of the Ogasawara Islands chain, located in the Pacific Ocean approximately 1,850 kilometers southeast of Tokyo.
    • It spans an area of 10,000 square kilometers at a depth of around 5,500 meters.
    • The total volume of ferromanganese nodules is estimated to be about 210 million tons, containing approximately 610,000 tons of cobalt and 740,000 tons of nickel.
  2. Resource potential:
    • The deposit is significant enough to potentially meet Japan’s cobalt needs for 75 years and its nickel requirements for 11 years.
    • Cobalt and nickel are critical for the production of batteries, especially for electric vehicles, and for various industrial applications.
  3. Technological and international collaboration:
    • The project involves a collaboration between the University of Tokyo and the Nippon Foundation, reflecting a strong academic and industrial partnership.
    • Given that the technologies for extracting ferromanganese nodules are not fully developed in Japan, there are plans to collaborate with European and American companies that have the necessary expertise in deep-sea mining technologies.
  4. Timeline and implementation:
    • The mining operations are expected to commence in 2026, following the development and deployment of suitable extraction technologies.
    • Post extraction, the Nippon Foundation will be responsible for organizing the commercial supply of the mined metals to Japanese industries that require these materials for manufacturing processes.

Significance and implications:

  1. Economic security:
    • By tapping into this vast deposit, Japan aims to reduce its dependence on imported critical minerals, which are often subject to geopolitical tensions and market volatility.
    • Securing a stable supply of cobalt and nickel will support the country’s push towards the adoption of electric vehicles and renewable energy technologies, which are essential for reducing carbon emissions and achieving sustainability goals.
  2. Technological development:
    • The project is likely to spur advancements in deep-sea mining technologies, potentially leading to innovations that could benefit the global mining industry.
    • Collaborating with international partners will also provide Japan with access to cutting-edge technologies and expertise, fostering global cooperation in resource extraction .
  3. Environmental and ethical considerations:
    • Deep-sea mining poses significant environmental risks, including potential disruption to marine ecosystems. Ensuring that the extraction process minimizes ecological impact will be crucial .
    • Ethical considerations regarding the environmental footprint and the potential impact on biodiversity must be addressed to ensure sustainable and responsible mining practices.

In conclusion, Japan’s planned deep-sea mining operation near the Ogasawara Islands represents a strategic move to secure critical raw materials, advance technological capabilities, and enhance economic security. This endeavor highlights the nation’s commitment to sustainability and innovation in the face of global challenges related to resource scarcity and environmental preservation.

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