The mineral manganese is present everywhere. It is found in spinach, rice, eggs and oil. It is an important trace element for the body, as it contributes, among other things, to bone formation and the absorption of vitamins. An adult has about 12 milligrams of manganese in the body.
At the same time, manganese is considered a toxic substance. Too much causes hallucinations, forgetfulness, and Parkinson’s-like complaints. Egg and spinach lovers have no need to fear. On the other hand, welders should be careful, as manganese poisoning is usually caused by inhaling manganese dust when welding.
Not surprisingly, welders are particularly at risk: the largest use of manganese is in steel. Steel consists mainly of iron, with some carbon. To influence the mechanical properties of steel, alloying elements are added, of which the steel can consist of from 1.5 to more than 12 percent. Manganese is added to the alloy to make the iron less brittle, and increases its yield strength and tensile strength.
Steel and batteries
The battery industry also likes to use manganese in the battery cathode. Manganese can absorb and release electrons well, which is essential when charging and discharging a battery. Cathodes come in many configurations. The most popular one at the moment is the nickel-manganese-cobalt cathode, which is used in many electric cars. A car with a 185 kg battery contains about 10 kg of manganese.
The availability of steel and batteries is critical to the success of the energy transition. The demand for batteries will grow strongly in the coming years. The need for steel is growing less quickly, but it has been widely used for decades, about 1.8 billion tons in 2020, and the expected demand for 2030 is 2 billion tons. Therefore there are serious concerns about the scarcity of materials.
One solution to this scarcity is being sought at the bottom of the sea. There are “polymetallic nodules”, which are commonly called manganese nodules. The fact that manganese is so prominent with this name is that it consists primarily of manganese oxides enriched with iron, cobalt, nickel and copper – almost the entire shopping list of minerals needed for energy transmission. Tubers grow slowly: from millimeters to tens of millimeters per million years. It is found in places where there are few sediments.
They take root at the bottom of the deep sea, where life moves very slowly
Collecting manganese nodules from the seabed is a highly controversial activity that has not yet been permitted. In practice, the “collection” is done by vehicles with caterpillar tracks, after which the tubers (and any gravel or soil life that comes with them) are transported through a huge tube to a ship on the surface. It is not known to what extent seabed ecosystems will be disturbed by this, but nature organizations are not expecting much good. The seabed authority will soon have to make a decision on the manganese nodules.
Thus, the mineral, whose existence was first questioned by Heinrich Bott in 1740, and whose existence was first isolated by Johann Gann in 1774, has become an element that shines at the heart of many highly topical debates touching on the future habitability of the planet. .
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