SME President's Page

Marc LeVier

I am constantly amazed by the power of technology transfer across a variety of scientific and engineering disciplines. Although often not obvious, both the creativity and adaptability of people to drive solutions over time when challenged with seemingly insurmountable problems can be impressive when they all focus on profitable opportunities to fulfill the needs of an expanding and hungry civilization. Hunger in this case refers to the insatiable need for food, energy and materials. For society this is potentially highly rewarding in often unrecognized aspects.

For example, the recently held Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) in Houston, TX showcased some groundbreaking technologies that were presented during many fascinating technical sessions and keynote sessions related to deep subsea marine mining for critical metalliferous metals. The various phases of resource exploration techniques, the engineering aspects of accessibility via remote sensing and autonomous equipment, all demonstrated that technological advances in surface and underground mining and material transport logistics can be successfully adapted and then transferred into the harshly cold and high-pressure environments miles below the surface of the sea.

In so many aspects, these newly developed offshore capabilities are leading the way to another vast ocean of opportunity for critical resource needs that are potentially “locatable” off-world (meaning moons, planets and asteroids). Although not the exact environment as an abyssal plain, I think the knowledge and experiences gained during such subsea mining (or harvesting) will lead the way to the eventual remote mining in space.

In the big picture, as other industrial sectors rapidly develop and commercialize access and transport into space (for example, Space-X, Boeing Starliner or Blue Origin), these key mining extraction technologies should in many ways soon be directly applicable to harvesting a lunar regolith, or autonomously drill and slice up an iron-nickel asteroid rich in platinum group elements (PGEs) or rare earth elements (REEs) and even precious metals. Let alone all the base metals we would ever want to ship back and consume at home, or even utilize for construction of off-Earth infrastructure and equipment as we expand human civilization into space.

As I wrote in prior articles, I think that everybody, everything and all knowledge is interconnected, and that in our future we will need to leverage what we learn in one area to solve problems in others.

Hence all that we can learn today will somehow be readily transferable to another need soon thereafter. The power of creative critical thinking by many is just one small example I observed during OTC, and this leads me to believe that great things await us all in our future.