Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS


VAMOS Report Summary

Project ID: 642477
Funded under: H2020-EU.3.5.3.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - VAMOS (¡Viable and Alternative Mine Operating System!)

Reporting period: 2015-02-01 to 2016-07-31

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

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 four mine sites across Europe with a range of rock hardness and pit morphology.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

The design of the mining prototype and the launch and recovery vessel is approximately 80% complete and final design checks and peer reviews are underway. Design of the various elements in the prototype equipment suite has been controlled carefully through a robust integration register. Some long-lead items have been ordered or reserved in stock. The project will shortly begin to order other parts, manufacture components and piece together sub-assemblies. With respect to the positioning, navigation and awareness equipment, some of the key components have been tested successfully on site. Decisions have yet to be finalised on configuration of grade (ore-quality) measuring tools but this is not delaying progress as this activity is not currently on the critical path.
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.
One of our test sites is in Bosnia Herzegovina, so the policy and regulatory background checks required for both scientific testing and future mining have been extended beyond existing EU boundaries. The originally envisaged task relating to this is complete. However, the duration of the project means that we will be required to monitor for any legal or regulatory developments both within and outside of the EU.
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.
Access constraints and environmental hazard identification has impacted the viability of sites for testing. Significant effort has been spent trying to overcome this. For one of the sites no feasible solution can be found. The project has however recently reached agreement in principle with the owner of a nearby replacement site. The project is spending extra effort on identification of contingency test sites in case further site changes are required due to permitting and ethical barriers uncovered during on-going evaluation. Our aim is to maximise the value of research/test data collected in a safe and environmentally acceptable manner, independent of the number of test sites.
The project will hopefully be in a position to finalise site choices in the next few months.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

From an equipment perspective the main items which will extend the state of the art are:
(a) Cutting and ore collecting technology
Sandvik developed a special underwater hydraulically driven cutting system comprising a new cutter head for horizontal slewing operation (usually these types of cutter heads operate in vertical slew motion), a special cutter gear with integrated fly wheel and hydraulic drive unit for high cutting torque and variable cutting speed, a special cutter boom configuration to cope with the planned underwater mining sequence and a new chassis type including a dozer blade providing sufficient cutting stabilization. All these new items can be seen as a further step to make conventional mining machines fit for underwater or submerged application securing future business on an alternative mining market, which submerged mining for sure will be in the future.
(b) Underwater hydraulic tool changer (on an excavator arm).
SMD will develop a version of its aqua-hitch concept to suit the mining vehicle prototype giving us the ability to change hydraulic tools without returning the mining vehicle to the surface. This system is not only useful from the perspective of giving the mining vehicle flexibility (greater deployed time, less machines required, ability to cope with altering geotechnical conditions and practical anomalies), it also provides capability benefits for general offshore commissioning, decommissioning and geotechnical sampling activities in the wider offshore and inland underwater markets.
(c) Modular launch and recovery vessel (LARV)
Damen is leading the design and configuration of this vessel. It is relatively unique in terms of some of the on-board equipment and due to its modular construction the principles can be extended to differing mining vehicle sizes – as well as allowing access to mines with off-road traffic conditions, relatively steep ramps and tight turning circles. Compared to existing vessels for launch and recovery of subsea equipment there are some differences. Instead of a closed “moonpool” and hinged hoisting gantry to deploy the mining vehicle, an open moonpool with sliding maintenance platform and a fixed gantry above it is used, giving the vessel improved stability and safety during lanch and recovery.
(d) Slurry circuit technology
For the slurry circuit, there are several novel innovations ranging from a patent pending dual stage pump for increased discharge pressure to a quick release dump valve and slurry density control system. The dual stage pump is of the centrifugal type, combining high output pressure with large particle size passage in a compact design. The pump and its control system will be tested separately on performance and operation to ensure that the commissioning and the first test at the test site will not be hindered by this critical component. The flexible riser together with the loosely attached umbilical has been specified to have an underwater weight of almost zero when only filled with water. In order to achieve this the weight of the hose needs to be as low as possible. One of the measures to do this is the use of aramide high strength reinforcement cord material to reduce the number of reinforcement layers in the riser. To ensure the most optimal reinforcement construction prototypes have been built and tested to validate the chosen design. Another feature is the use of high pressure resistant Buoyancy devices that can be attached to the outside of the riser element on three alternative positions to ensure the buoyancy at the depth of 200 m. This offers the project the capability to use the most optimal configuration of the Buoyancy devices during the onsite tests.
(e) Positioning, navigation and awareness capability in turbid and reflective environments.
INESC will lead the development of a HROV (hybrid remotely operated vehicle). This will be the key tool in relation to survey and data capture – combined with multiple sensory systems on the other mining equipment. This is not only useful for inland underwater mining but would also be useful for deep-sea mining and exploration in Seafloor Massive Sulphide deposits – particularly where there are black smokers adjacent to the worksite. There are also many other areas in the ocean and in large inland waterbodies where natural turbidity exists. The positioning, navigation and awareness systems we are developing together with fusion of the multiple data streams and virtual reality projection (BMT WBM) are useful for mission planning and training in addition to piloting of the mining equipment. The system will also potentially be useful for inspection, surveillance and monitoring in other low visibility underwater environments. Opportunities for application exist in dredging activities, harbour/port works, hydro-electric dams, large cooling water transfer tunnels in power stations, various large civil projects such as segmental submerged tunnel installations.
(f) LIBS or other ore-quality measurement techniques
The research work being conducted by INESC is currently focusing on the optimum ore-grade measurement system for underwater use. This would be more useful to deep-sea mining than perhaps to inland mining where the transit time of the ore to surface is short. If the final solution is small enough and sufficiently low powered, then here is also potential application in underwater mineral prospecting, monitoring of elements in deep-sea tailings disposal, sewer outfall assessment/evaluation and a variety of other pollution monitoring activities where disturbance of sediments need to be minimised – such as heavy metal concentrations in historic river pollution zones.
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 (due to either stripping ratio or environmental sensitivities) 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 productivities, costs and downstream impact.

Related information

Record Number: 193013 / Last updated on: 2016-12-16
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