Ocean Minerals LLC (OML) is a privately-held deep ocean minerals exploration and development company, based in Houston, Texas. OML is focused on its critical minerals projects located in the Cook Islands.
OML was founded in 2016 by Dr. John Halkyard as a result of a US Army Research Lab (ARL) grant awarded to OML’s predecessor, which was aimed at identifying and studying rare earth element (REE) deposits on the seafloor. The result was the identification of a sizeable REE sediment source, as well as a large cobalt-rich polymetallic nodule field – both in the Cook Islands. As a direct result, OML was created to pursue these opportunities.
Cobalt-rich polymetallic nodule field covers large areas of the abyssal plains within the large, 1+ million km sq EEZ of the Cook Islands. Sampling of the 2D resource involves use of simple grab free-fall grab devices.
OML’s projects are located in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Cook Islands, a friendly pro-development jurisdiction located in the South Pacific with seabed mineral legislation already in place to support responsible and sustainable development of these critical minerals projects.
Location of Cook Islands and Map of OML’s Blocks within the CI EEZ
The Cook Islands are located in the South Pacific, between New Zealand and Hawaii.
OML’s most advanced project, the polymetallic nodule project, is a large-tonnage and high-grade deposit that contains cobalt (primary metal), with byproducts of nickel, copper, manganese, and REEs, which can support large-scale production of critical and battery grade metals and metal compounds to supply the electric vehicle and advanced energy storage markets around the world. The ore body (nodule field) is two-dimensional, not covered by overburden, and largely homogenous in content and grade. Further, recent nodule assays also indicate attractive REE mineralization.
OML Maiden Mineral Resource Statement
Data from RSC Consulting Ltd.’s Mineral Resource Statement (19 October 2017).
This deposit rivals those located in less favorable jurisdictions, such as those in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Southeast Asia (Indonesia and Philippines). Unlike these other deposits that are either primary copper (in the DRC) or nickel (in SE Asia), OML’s project is a primary cobalt deposit – the largest known primary cobalt deposit in the world. Along with its byproducts, these nodules can potentially provide all of the battery metals, with the exception of lithium. This represents a unique and timely opportunity to meet growing demand, diversify and reinforce the supply chain, and develop new processing and separation technology.
Global Cobalt Deposits Grade & Tonnage
OML’s polymetallic nodule project is as high grade as the copper-cobalt projects in the DRC, and including known exploration targets, also has the potential to be as large in terms of tonnage.
Current economic analysis shows the project to have cash costs in the first quartile of global cobalt projects, making OML cost competitive with terrestrial operations.
The company is managed by and majority-owned by an experienced Board of Directors and Management Team, led by seasoned and established industry professionals with specialized, and relatively scarce skillsets across design and engineering, marine geology, metallurgy, as well as operational and financial management including:
- John Halkyard (Founder & Chairman)
- Hans Smit (Chief Executive Officer & Director)
- David S. Huber (Senior VP, Business Development & Director)
- Jack Lifton (Non-Executive Director)
- Karl Winter (Non-Executive Director)
- William McMahon (Chief Financial Officer)
- Laurie Meyer (Chief Projects Officer)
- Colin Seaborn, FAusIMM (Chief Metallurgist)
Project development builds upon technologies pioneered in the 1970s, when several consortia composed of the world’s leading metal/mining companies (including US Steel, Kennecott, Rio Tinto, Billiton, and Inco), oil & gas companies (including Sun Oil, British Petroleum, and Amoco), and other industrial groups (including Mitsubishi, Lockheed, and Boskalis) conducted open-ocean testing of various system components to harvest deep-ocean nodules. Many of these advancements have been further developed by the deep-water oil & gas industry in recent decades. There have also been several examples of successful minerals development in shallower waters, including offshore diamond mining in southern Africa, offshore tin mining in southeast Asia, and offshore dredging of gravel and sand globally.
Despite these early advancements, the deep ocean minerals exploration and development industry has since been dominated by private and state-sponsored companies from the European Union, Japan, South Korea, and China in particular. OML remains the only significant US-based company currently active in deep ocean minerals exploration and development.
OML’s strategy is to leverage these established and improved upon technologies as system development evolves and equipment selection and related development is finalized. Based on the existing inventory of deep-water drilling vessels, bulk material carriers, and other assets that are available for possible re-tooling and re-purposing to be used as nodule harvesting vessels and nodule storage vessels, OML has progressed several key partnerships, and expects further agreements on this front. OML anticipates commercial production as soon as 2026.
Schematic of OML’s Proposed Nodule Collection Vessel and Seafloor Collector
OML’s environmental focus builds upon decades of existing work focused on the impact of commercial nodule harvesting on deep-ocean flora and fauna, sediment plume dispersion, and general environmental baseline data collection. Much of this work began in the 1970s and has continued with individual and collaborative studies conducted largely by leaseholders in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone, an area in international waters located to the north of the Cook Islands Exclusive Economic Zone. OML has also continued to build upon this base of data and knowledge with the company’s own Environmental Scoping Study, initiated in Q2 2019.
Equipment Used in Environmental Surveys
Left: Benthic disturber for plume studies / Right: Benthic lander for collection of seafloor environmental data
Recent milestones accomplished by OML or related to the company’s project that occurred over the past 12 months include:
- 2019 Seabed Minerals Act has been passed by the Cook Islands, an update to the existing 2009 legislation, which was the first – and remains the only seabed minerals development legislation and fiscal framework in place anywhere in the world;
- Completed independently-prepared maiden Preliminary Economic Assessment (PEA) with AMC Consultants Pty. Ltd. (Singapore/Australia);
- Recovered ~250kg of nodules and associated biological samples from OML’s reserved areas in the Cook Islands using a local vessel;
- Commenced metallurgical testing of nodules to determine mineral content and improve confidence around mineral extraction, separation, and purification for the production of battery-grade compounds;
- Progressed development of metal extraction process through several key partnerships with world-class partners, most notably General Atomics, the US-based energy, defense, and diversified technologies company;
- Completed internal scoping study work to update OML’s 2019 PEA, which now factors in results from recent metallurgical testing and improved project efficiencies;
- Agreement signed with mining and engineering company to design and cost a metals extraction processing plant, which will lead to completion of an independent Preliminary Feasibility Study (PFS), the next threshold for project development;
- Study agreement signed with one of the world’s largest deep-water drilling companies, to investigate the potential of converting one of their vessels into a nodule harvesting vessel; and
- Submitted application for financing from the US Development Finance Corporation (DFC), a newly-created government agency formed from OPIC and USAID’s credit group, which serves as the US government’s development finance agency.