Working to develop Europe’s hidden resources
With much of Europe’s mineral resources depleted after centuries of mining, a consortium of research institutions and industrial corporations have come together to develop new techniques for exploiting mineral deposits that up until now have been seen as uneconomic. This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 642477.
The Horizon 2020 programme will, over the course of three and a half years, study methods to extracting minerals from land deposits that are currently seen as low grade, too deep or too small. Part of the EUR 12.6 million will also be committed to designing and testing a prototype underwater mining system.
Designated !VAMOS!, the Viable Alternative Mine Operating System (and also Spanish for ‘let’s go!’) project is to design and build a robotic, underwater mining prototype for use in opencast mines that have flooded after being abandoned, as well as on extensions of opencast mines that are limited by stripping ratio, hydrological or geotechnical problems, and the opening of new mines with limited environmental impacts. The system will also be suitable for use in saltwater environments.
Damen Dredging Equipment will lead the system specification and architecture phase where the specifications and integration of the mining vehicle prototype together with its launch and recovery system will be defined. Damen will be responsible for the design and manufacturing of components that are used for taking up the rock, transferring power and forming and controlling the flow of the slurry. Another important task will be to design and build the vessel from which the mining machine will be deployed. In the testing phase of the project, to take place at four separate mining sites around Europe, Damen will thoroughly log and evaluate the performance of all slurry related components. Damen Dredging Equipment will also be the Quality Manager for the project.
The design will build on successful deep-sea excavation techniques currently in operation. Three of the test sites will be inland inactive submerged mineral deposits, and the fourth will be nearshore. Operating in the surfzone near cliffs will pose a challenge to the project and the team. The pH value found in some pits will also be a challenge. A further factor is the fact that the operation will be carried out in an environmentally responsible way. The goal of reusing raw materials further contributes to the goals of sustainability.
In addition to its core objectives, ¡VAMOS! will also look to improve on currently available underwater sensing, spatial awareness, navigational and positioning technology, as well as providing an integrated solution for efficient real-time recording of the parameters associated with potential environmental impacts.
Damen was invited to join the partnership behind the programme based on the experience and knowledge within Damen Dredging Equipment. This unit of the Damen Shipyards Group designs and builds a wide range of dredging equipment and over the years has developed a wide range of standard dredgers and dredging related components. A producer of customised high quality dredging equipment; it achieves this by adapting standard products to fully meet the requirements of each customer, thereby creating flexible and efficient dredgers to suit any role. Its research and development department will play a major role in the project, with laboratory facilities that include a soil investigation laboratory, slurry pumping test circuit, overflow and plume testing tank, and a hyperbaric test chamber.
The assessment process will include demonstrating the applicability of a remotely operated mining machine for submerged inland applications, testing new cutting technology in real submerged inland mining conditions, and testing innovative slurry transportation, floating winch technology, and novel launch/recovery/hose and cable layout systems. Also the opportunity will be taken to test in real submerged mining conditions underwater the multi-tool system and a reliable method of on-the-go tool change.
Under the coordination of BMT Group Ltd and the Technical management of Soil Machine Dynamics Ltd, a consortium of 17 project partners from nine EU countries will collaborate, including: Soil Machine Dynamics Ltd; Damen Shipyards Group; Instituto de Engenharia Sistemas e Computadores; Fugro EMU Limited; Zentrum für Telematik e.V.; Montanuniversität Leoben; Minerália, Lda; Marine Minerals Ltd; Empresa de Desenvolvimento Mineiro SA; Sandvik Mining and Construction G.m.b.H; Geological Survey of Slovenia; La Palma Research Centre for Future Studies; the European Federation of Geologists; Trelleborg Infrastructure; Federalni zavod za Geologijo and Fondacija za obnovu I razvoj regije Vareš.
For Damen, this project represents another opportunity to take a leading role in the development of new vessel types and their associated technologies that help address the challenges for present and future generations.