¡VAMOS!: A European R&D project to unlock the potential of unexploited minerals in an environmentally friendly manner
Dredging and mining: the two industries share a long history. The ¡VAMOS! Project is an example of how the two sectors are continuing their cooperative path – this time to access Europe’s abandoned mineral resources.
Business Development Manager Mining
Soil Machine Dynamics
“We have got an opportunity here to enable access to high quality mineral reserves that conventional mining cannot. Economically speaking, conventional mining cannot access these reserves,” begins Soil Machine Dynamics (SMD) Business Development Manager Mining Stef Kapusniak. Bearing in mind the importance of these reserves, the contribution that ¡VAMOS! can provide the mining industry is substantial, he says. “In terms of minerals, Europe consumes a lot more than it produces. And a lot of our industry is dependent on a strategic supply. This project aims to lessen that strategic risk and dependency.”
A chance to clean up
One of the key issues that ¡VAMOS! aims to address is the reopening of abandoned mines. “You can imagine that when reserves become uneconomical to extract, the mining process stops and then, in general, the mine floods. Not all of these abandoned mines are rehabilitated and many still contain relatively high grade ore.” In its technical management role, SMD heads up the design & build and testing phases. The company is also responsible for the manufacture of the mining prototype. “We can mine some of it – not all of it – using floating and suspended robotic equipment. We can pump it out as a dredging slurry, extract the ore and return the water.”
Dr Kapusniak continues by highlighting some of the environmental benefits that ¡VAMOS! has over conventional mining. “In certain types of ore bodies there are advantages. We don’t have to dewater the area; in fact, we rely on the water table. If you look at the state of some of the abandoned mines around Europe, it is a chance to clean up some environmental hazards. As there is no dewatering requirement and no minewater discharge the technique is also suitable for mining of hydrologically complex ore deposits that have previously been disregarded. With no blasting noise, vibration, fumes or dust, reserves which have previously been left in protective buffer zones potentially become available.”
From a logistics point of view, the project has been designed for straightforward transport. “All of the components fit onto standard European trucks. That way, there is less investment needed in infrastructure. You can just move from mine to mine.”
“With ¡VAMOS!, the infrastructure is the vessel itself,” continues Boskalis General Manager Corporate Research and Development Sander Steenbrink. “At the end of a project, the infrastructure – the vessel – moves on to the next mine. This is not possible in traditional land-based mining projects.” In view of its experience and studies on the subject of deep sea mining over the years – going back to the 1970s, in fact – Boskalis is well suited to its advisory role in ¡VAMOS!. “We are not an equipment manufacturer, but, through our operational experience, we fully understand what functions or characteristics are required in equipment.
General Manager Corporate R&D
We ask questions about what practical problems might be encountered, or about matters that effect the productivity of the tools. This is a concept that can be applied in many different areas. For example abandoned, and flooded, mining sites. Or in coastal waters and the deep sea.” While the majority of the project’s attention has been focused on land-based activities, the partners also see the potential in expanding operations into deeper waters. “Interest in deep sea mining has been rekindled over the last 10 years. This has been due to the limited amount and low concentrations of materials on land in addition to the problems associated with land-based mining,” continues Mr Steenbrink. “Considering that the step from shallow water to deep water is not that big – the two areas actually share similar challenges – mining at sea has significant advantages over mining on land.”
The ¡VAMOS! project is diverse: with 17 partners from 9 different countries. This diversity has brought a distinctive set of challenges, says Mr Steenbrink: “It’s a question of bringing the various components together into one system. This is where SMD’s expertise comes in: they are specialists in manufacturing this type of equipment and they have the project experience.”
Other challenging aspects stem from the different methods that the scientific community uses to approach a problem than their more commercial partners, says Dr Kapusniak. “There are many scientific and engineering facets involved; some of them are proven and some are really pushing boundaries. And there are language barriers across nine countries. Everyone has learned a bit of a foreign language as we have gone on.” However, it is these challenges that have contributed to cooperation. “There isn’t one partner who can do everything – nobody is an expert in all subjects – so it’s a matter of mutual dependency,” he says. “We want to make the project a success and we will cooperate to achieve this.”
Mr Steenbrink takes the concept of collaboration further: “There is a shared mentality. Whatever the technical challenge, we believe a solution can be found. The ‘art’ of the matter is to provide a solution that is economically viable.” And that is the crux of the matter: how the input from numerous parties – industrial as well as academic – within the mining and dredging industries can be pooled to create a technically workable and financially feasible product.
¡VAMOS! – DAMEN’S CONTRIBUTION
Damen’s role in ¡VAMOS! draws on the company’s dredging and shipbuilding know-how. The dredge gear is being developed and supplied by Damen Dredging Equipment and SMD’s mining vehicle will be mobilised from a Damen Launch and Recovery Vessel, based on Damen’s standard Modular Pontoons.
These are constructed from container-sized modules that can be coupled with the Damen Link system. “This modular system is very flexible,” says Damen Civil and Modular Constructions Director Marcel Karsijns. “The main advantage of which is that you can transport the project components by road, by train or by vessel.
This makes getting the equipment to a remote abandoned quarry site, for example, a straightforward business.” This is the same concept that Damen uses in its DOP pump solutions for dredging reservoirs that are directly upriver from hydroelectric dams.
¡VAMOS! – THE BACKGROUND INFO
Europe has been actively mined over centuries and many easily accessible deposits have been depleted, while deeper ones have not been fully explored. Opportunities also lie in abandoned and flooded mine sites, in low grade deposits and in small deposits where larger mining operations may not be feasible.
The water is left in the mine and the equipment is remotely operated underwater. Part of the Horizon 2020 programme, ¡VAMOS! is a Research & Development Project that investigates the exploitation and rehabilitation of underexploited and abandoned European mining sites.
The project aims to ensure the sustainable supply of raw materials and introduce innovative actions regarding automated mining, mining of small deposits and alternative mining. It is financially important: estimates indicate that the value of unexploited European minerals between 500 and 1,000 metres deep is approximately €100 billion.