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Teaser, summary, work performed and final results

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - VAMOS (¡Viable and Alternative Mine Operating System!)


Estimates indicate that the value of unexploited European mineral resources at a depth of 500-1,000 meters is ca €100 billion, however, a number of physical, economic, social, environmental and human constraints have as yet limited their exploitation. ¡VAMOS! will provide a...


Estimates indicate that the value of unexploited European mineral resources at a depth of 500-1,000 meters is ca €100 billion, however, a number of physical, economic, social, environmental and human constraints have as yet limited their exploitation. ¡VAMOS! will provide a new safe, clean and low visibility mining technique and will prove the economic viability of extracting currently unreachable mineral deposits, thus encouraging investment and providing the EU with access to strategically important minerals. Deriving from successful deep-sea mining techniques, the ¡VAMOS! mining solution will facilitate the re-opening of abandoned mines; Extensions of opencut mines which are currently limited by stripping ratio, hydrological or geotechnical problems; and opening of new mines within the EU.
¡VAMOS! will:
1. Develop a prototype underwater, remotely controlled, mining machine with associated launch and recovery equipment.
2. Enhance currently available underwater sensing, spatial awareness, navigational and positioning technology.
3. Provide an integrated solution for efficient Real-time Monitoring of Environmental Impact
4. Conduct field trials with the prototype equipment in abandoned and inactive mine sites with a range of rock types and at a range of submerged depths.
5. Evaluate the productivity and cost of operation to enable mine-ability and economic reassessment of the EU\'s mineral resources.
6. Maximize impact and enable the Market Up-Take of the proposed solutions by defining and overcoming the practicalities of the concept, proving the operational feasibility and the economic viability.
The ¡VAMOS! Innovations including the automated excavation equipment and environmental impact monitoring tools will be field tested in a number of mine sites across Europe with a range of rock hardness and pit morphology.

Work performed

The innovation agenda within the ¡VAMOS! project is evolving. Considerable industrial interest is being generated from an inland underwater mining perspective. The planned scientific testing in sites which are safe from an environmental perspective will generate baseline information that is useful to offshore mining. The project is therefore also attracting interest from the nearshore and emerging deep-sea mining sectors. The design of the mining prototype and the launch and recovery vessel is complete and final design checks and peer reviews have been completed. Partners have built sub-assemblies and passed them to SMD for integration into the mining vehicle. The launch and recovery system (LARS) has also progressed with modular units being built at DAMEN’s facilities. Design of the various elements in the prototype equipment suite has been controlled carefully through a robust integration register. The key components of the positioning, navigation and awareness equipment have been tested in the lab and work is almost complete in readiness for testing the whole system. The review of the regulatory background has enabled us to prepare “zero-state” environmental and geo-hazard identification criteria. This list of criteria has been prepared with industrial-scale mining in mind. We have however reviewed each item on this list against each potential test site. The first test site is in the southwest of the United Kingdom at the disused Lee Moor kaolin/china clay site, planned for September/October 2017. This is part of a network of china clay pits managed by Imerys – one of the world’s largest industrial minerals companies, headquartered in France. Testing at the other test site, an abandoned iron ore mine at Vares in Bosnia-Herzegovina, will take place next year. Accessibility is difficult in the winter months. This allows time to analyse the results of the first test site and make any adjustments required for the second multi-depth test site. The results from these tests are expected to confirm low environmental impact and to determine productivity in a range of rocks (from soft to hard) at a range of depths, in a format suitable for extrapolation to industrial scale use of the technique. A significant proportion of work has been carried out setting up conventional mining cost models which will be used to determine the “sweet-spot” for operation of the technique from a cost competitiveness perspective and determine the level of industrial viability. Additionally, a range of non-mining applications of the technology have been considered.

Final results

The main thrust of the project is to enable environmentally friendly and competitively priced access to EU strategic minerals. Reducing the EU’s dependence on others for key minerals upon which it currently depends to support its downstream value adding industries. The robotic approach removes personnel from the pit, thereby improving safety. Consequently the major societal impact would be in terms of growth and jobs in downstream activities, not within the mining process itself. High grade resources which cannot currently be mined effectively using conventional techniques can be accessed using the technique. The societal impact is potentially massive but can only realistically be quantified once the testing phase of the project is completed. This will identify the range of application and enable extrapolation to industrial scale productiveness, costs and downstream impact.
From an equipment perspective the main items which will extend the state of the art are:
(a) Cutting and ore collecting technology
(b) Underwater hydraulic tool changer.
(c) Modular launch and recovery vessel (LARV)
(d) Slurry circuit technology
(e) Positioning, navigation and awareness capability in turbid and reflective environments.
(f) LIBS or other ore-quality measurement techniques

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