July 13, 2022
He was young, naive, and eager to gain experience in mining. "I had always dreamed of it, minerals fascinated me," said Aganze Baciyunjuze Gloire. When the recruiter came to his hometown and offered good money to work in a mine, the then 17-year-old didn't think twice. What followed, he recalled, "was the worst experience of my life."
The illegal mining of raw materials such as cobalt, tin, tungsten, tantalum, or even gold by small-scale miners is widespread in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Often children are used for this work under slave-like conditions. So was Gloire. From unsecured tunnels, he hauled heavy chunks of rock to the surface, which were washed, crushed, and often treated with mercury to release metals contained within. He had to endure violence and abuse before he took the first opportunity to escape.
Despite the traumatic experiences and dashed hopes, his interest in minerals and their mining remained. "I wanted to learn more about it, and I still do," he said. Gloire studied exploration and mining geology at the Official University of Bukavu in Congo. After obtaining his bachelor's degree he continued his studies with a master's at the University of Nairobi in Kenya. He was then accepted into a grant program of the International Seabed Authority (ISA), whose mission is to manage the mineral resources of the deep sea as a common heritage of humankind. This experience led to an internship with the Canadian mining firm "The Metals Company", then known as DeepGreen Metals, which sent him on an expedition to the "Clarion Clipperton Zone" in the Pacific.
This area stretches from the west coast of Mexico to Hawaii. What makes it so interesting for companies and scientists is found several thousand meters deep at the bottom of the ocean: Polymetallic manganese nodules. They contain significant amounts of cobalt, nickel, copper, and manganese – sought-after and scarce substances that are urgently needed, for example, for the transformation of our energy system, for the construction of batteries, electrical cars, or wind turbines.
"I had experience with onshore mining. Deep-sea mining was a completely new field for me that immediately interested me. I am a tenacious person and I like to be part of things that have never been done before. Since then, I resolved to continue learning about new techniques and ways of acquiring minerals from different types of environments," Gloire said. For his doctorate, he was looking for a supervisor who conducts research in this area, and in late 2019 he contacted Andrea Koschinsky, Professor of Geoscience at Jacobs University. She agreed to supervise his research, but then Covid hit, and with the pandemic, his grant got canceled. Gloire kept going and successfully applied to the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) for funding. "Professor Koschinsky always motivated me, and without her support, I wouldn't have made it this far.”
Since October 2021, the inquisitive 31-year-old has been a PhD student with Jacobs University. His research topic straddles across the biogeochemical impacts of a possible mining of manganese nodules on the ecosystem of the deep sea. Commercial mining of these mineral resources is not happening yet. But given the finite nature of resources on land and the high demand, this is becoming increasingly likely. The deep-sea is particularly vulnerable. Due to the low temperatures, darkness, and limited nutrients prevailing there, the processes take place very slowly.
"Mining manganese nodules from the sea floor could have a variety of impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. These include the release of potentially toxic compounds by sediment plumes, which will travel across the seabed and spread several kilometers away from the mining site”, Gloire explained. What the sediment plumes affect and how they can be contained is the subject of his research. He will soon be able to do this on site again: In October 2022, Gloire will be setting off again for the Clarion Clipperton Zone on a research trip. He hopes to be able to assist different industries and political committees in their efforts to develop mining regulations with his research findings.
Gloire has now been in Bremen for nine months, and he has settled in well. "Andrea Koschinsky's working group has made it very easy for me, it's like a family, everyone helps each other." He still remains in close contact with his home country. "I want to help my country regulate and modernize the mining sector.", he said.
In order to raise supply chain standards, for example, he conducts online audits, teaches at the university, and is particularly involved with "ORACL-DRC”. This charity, which he founded with the support of the Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI), aims to counter illegal activities such as child labor and provide support to low-income families in the mineral-rich areas of Congo. About 30 percent of the work in Congo's mines is done by children and young people between the ages of five and 17. "The main cause of child labor is poverty," Gloire said. "We are trying to help them and their families, mainly through educational opportunities." Because education opens up completely new possibilities.
More about Gloire:
LinkedIn: Glory Aganze
Instagram: Glo Agan
This text is part of the series "Faces of Jacobs", in which Jacobs University introduces students, alumni, professors, and employees. Further episodes can be found at www.jacobs-university.de/faces