By Helene Reid
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – French carmaker Renault SA has backed a moratorium on deep-sea mining, the company told Reuters on Wednesday, pledging to exclude seabed metals from its supply chain, bringing a blow to the infant industry.
In October, French President Emmanuel Macron identified seabed exploration as an investment priority for France, highlighting the potential for access to “rare metals” as well as a better understanding of marine ecosystems. The French state is Renault’s largest shareholder with 15.01%.
The move by Renault – one of France’s two major automakers – adds to pressure on the nascent deep-sea mining industry which aims to extract battery metals like cobalt, nickel and manganese from nodules of the size of a potato on the seabed.
Companies that hold seabed exploration licenses including The Metals Company, GSR and UK Seabed Resources – a subsidiary of the UK arm of Lockheed Martin – hope to eventually sell seabed metals to carmakers.
A Renault spokesperson said its call for a moratorium was aligned with the government’s position as France “plans to invest in seabed exploration to identify potential solutions for sustainable extraction”.
Macron had stopped short of supporting seabed mining, in a nod to controversy around the fledgling industry which critics say could wipe out as-yet-unknown species.
“I can already hear the debate coming, I’m not talking about exploitation for the moment, I’m talking about exploration,” he said in a speech in October to launch a “France 2030” investment plan.
France holds an exploration contract, through the French Research Institute for the Exploitation of the Sea (IFREMER), for an area of 75,000 square kilometers in the Clarion-Clipperton zone, a vast expanse of North Pacific seabed rich in polymetallic nodules.
The French government and IFREMER did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Renault’s logo appeared on a deep-sea mining campaign website listing companies that have backed the moratorium, including Google, Samsung SDI and BMW Group.
A Renault spokesperson said the logo was added on Tuesday and the decision was made as part of the automaker’s sustainability strategy.
Companies that signed the moratorium pledge to exclude these metals from their supply chains and not fund deep seabed mining.
The moratorium calls for a clear demonstration, before any deep sea mining, that it can be managed in a way that ensures the protection of marine habitats.
(Reporting by Helen Reid, additional reporting by Gilles Guillaume; Editing by Amran Abocar and Bernadette Baum)