Kennecott Consortium



The 1970s marked a significant period in the history of mining, with the emergence of Deep Sea Mining as a potential source of valuable minerals. The Kennecott Consortium, led by the Kennecott Copper Corporation, was one of the key players in this nascent industry, investing heavily in the technologies and infrastructure needed to extract minerals from the ocean floor.

Although the Kennecott Consorortium ultimately failed to commercialise Deep Sea Mining, and their operations were suspended in the late 1970s, they nonetheless developed and pioneered the majority of the tools, techniques and processes that are employed in Deep Sea Mining today.

The Kennecott Consortium

The Kennecott Copper Corporation was founded in 1903 and quickly became one of the largest producers of copper in the world. Its operations were primarily based in North America, but by the 1970s, the company was looking to diversify its operations and explore new opportunities for mineral extraction.

General interest and awareness in Deep Sea Mining had grown in the mining industry during the 1960s, particularly as a result of the growth of offshore oil and gas drilling and production. Ironically it was further spurred on by the cold war, and particularly Project Azorian. This project used the cover-story of Deep Sea Mining to justify the development of the Glomar Explorer by the Hughes Corporation, in order to recover a sunken Soviet submarine.

Increasing copper prices combined with decreasing reserves and the desire to unlock new sources of ore led to the formation of the Kennecott Consortium, a group of companies with a shared interest in deep-sea mining.

The Rise of Deep Sea Mining

Deep-sea mining is the process of extracting mineral resources from the ocean floor. This involves the retrieval of mineral deposits from the seabed, typically at depths of 200 meters or more. In the 1970s, this was a relatively new and unexplored field, with vast potential for the extraction of valuable minerals such as manganese nodules, polymetallic sulphides, and cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts.

Manganese nodules were of great interest to the Kennecott Consortium. These are rock concretions formed of concentric layers of iron and manganese hydroxides that accumulate around a core. Manganese nodules are found in abundance on the ocean floor and contain significant amounts of nickel, copper, and cobalt, in addition to manganese. The Kennecott Consortium saw the potential for profitable mining of these nodules and invested heavily in the necessary technology and infrastructure.

Processes and Technologies Developed and Employed

The 1970s marked a period of significant technological advancements in the field of deep-sea mining. The Kennecott Consortium invested heavily in the development and implementation of range of new technologies, including:

Exploration Technologies

The first step in the deep-sea mining process is exploration, which involves locating and mapping mineral deposits on the ocean floor. Kennecott modified a number of different techniques to achieve this:

Sonar Mapping

Sonar mapping was one of the primary methods used for exploration. This technology uses sound waves to map the ocean floor and identify areas with high concentrations of mineral deposits. The Kennecott Consortium utilized advanced sonar systems capable of mapping the seabed at depths of up to 6,000 meters, providing detailed images of the ocean floor and helping to identify promising areas for mining.

Core Sampling

Core sampling involves collecting samples of the seabed using a coring device, which is then analyzed to determine the composition and concentration of minerals present. The consortium utilized advanced coring devices capable of collecting samples from depths of up to 6,000 meters, providing valuable data on the mineral composition of the ocean floor.

Submersible Vehicles

Remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) were used for exploration, and particularly the investigation and recover of nodules. These submersible vehicles were equipped with cameras and other sensors to collect data about the ocean floor and the mineral deposits found there. Kennecott utilized both in its exploration efforts, allowing for more detailed data collection and analysis.

Extraction Technologies

Once mineral deposits have been located and mapped, the next step in the deep-sea mining process is extraction. Kennecott employed a variety of technologies to extract mineral deposits from the ocean floor:

Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs)

ROVs were one of the primary technologies used for extraction. These are remotely operated vehicles equipped with specialized tools for collecting mineral deposits from the seabed. Kennecott pioneered the use of a tracked collector that was able to gather nodules from the seabed and tranport them to the lifting equipment for transit to the surface.

Lifting Equipment

Specialized lifting equipment was used to transport the collected mineral deposits from the ocean floor collector to the surface. This equipment was designed to handle the extreme pressures and temperatures found at the depths of the ocean. Kennecott utilized advanced lifting equipment capable of transporting large quantities of mineral deposits to the surface for further processing.


  • The Kennecott Consortium was formed by the Kennecott Copper Corporation in the 1970s to engage in Deep Sea Mining
  • They were particularly interested in mining manganese nodules, which contain significant amounts of nickel, copper, and cobalt
  • The consortium developed many of the key technologies and processes used in Deep Sea Mining today
  • Significant environmental concerns were raised around Deep Sea Mining, including sediment disturbance, disruption to marine life, and waste disposal
  • Additionally there were socio-economic concerns, including the potential impact on commodity prices and local fishing communities
  • Despite significant technological advances, the consortium did not commercialise Deep Sea Mining

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Phillip Gales is a serial entrepreneur who has built tech companies in various heavy industries including Oil & Gas, Construction, Real Estate and Supply Chain Logistics. Originally from the UK, he now lives in Toronto, Canada, with his wife and young family.

Phillip holds an MBA from Harvard Business School, and an MEng in Electrical Engineering from the University of Cambridge, specialising in Machine Intelligence.