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Nonliving Resources from the Sea
Teodoro M. Santos
 
     
 

A scientific basis is needed for designing national policies on exploration, development, and extraction of nonliving resources in the Philippine archipelago. Specially, it is important to assess the potential of nonliving resources within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ); determine the broad research and development (R&D) policy requirements to enhance the potential of nonliving resources; and identify potential and economic benefits from marine nonliving resources.

The country possesses nonliving resources in the EEZ whose magnitude and quality are such that it can transform the country into an affluent and strong industrial state, if properly harnessed. This can be made possible if we are able to generate or adapt appropriate technologies, provide necessary infrastructure, create favorable social and economic environment, and promptly solve pertinent environmental problems.

Among these resources are the almost limitless renewable energy, ocean thermal gradient, tidal current, and waves. Seawater is virtually a limitless source of freshwater as well as of metals and other substances dissolved in it.

The vast tidal current, OTEC (ocean thermal energy conversion) which can generate electricity due to the temperature difference between the warm surface water and cold deep bottom water, and wave energy resources exist in the ocean within the country’s jurisdiction. There are also potential petroleum and natural gas deposits waiting to be discovered and tapped. Moreover, with cheap electricity, freshwater can be the by-product in the production of electricity by means of OTEC. By harnessing some of our tidal currents (e.g., San Bernardino Strait), excess electricity can be used to produce cheap hydrogen.

Elements like sodium, potassium, chlorine, bromine, iodine, and magnesium are found dissolved in seawater in economic concentrations. Sodium chloride, commonly known as table salt and can be produced as a by-product in the production of electricity by OTEC, is also used in one form or other in many industrial processes. Magnesium, an excellent substitute for aluminum, is commonly recovered from seawater. Gold, copper, tin, thorium, and uranium are other elements that can be recovered from seawater with cheap electricity. The above elements can also be recovered as by-products of desalination or of production of electricity by OTEC.

The potential for exploiting placer gold, platinum, chromite, and other useful industrial minerals in the Philippine EEZ is high. Large deposits of manganese nodules, cobalt-rich crusts and massive sulfides can be found within the EEZ and continental margins. Nevertheless, the exploitation of these vast resources could entail unknown environmental problems which must be solved to realize the benefits from these resources.

Given the vast nonliving natural resources, we have the option to preserve them or let our people suffer from poverty or take bold steps to harness them for the benefit of the country.

The University of the Philippines can help realize the benefits from our rich resources in the sea by undertaking R&D geared toward (1) transforming undiscovered resources to known energy and other valuable resources without undertaking the expensive exploration and development; (2) indicating how the initially uneconomic resources can be made economic by developing the necessary technologies and improving policies and market conditions to greatly lower the cost of extraction of these resources; and (3) showing how to overcome environmental problems due to extraction of nonliving resources.