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¡Viable and Alternative Mine Operating System!

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - VAMOS (¡Viable and Alternative Mine Operating System!)

Reporting period: 2017-08-01 to 2019-01-31

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 were field tested in a number of mine sites across Europe with a range of rock hardness and pit morphology.
The innovation agenda within the ¡VAMOS! project evolved over it’s lifetime. Considerable industrial interest was generated from an inland underwater mining perspective. The scientific testing in sites which are safe (from an environmental perspective) generated 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 the whole system was tested in the field. 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 test site. The first test site was in the southwest of the United Kingdom at the disused Lee Moor kaolin/china clay site. 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 in Silvermines, Ireland, took place in 2018. The results from these tests confirmed low environmental impact and determined 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. Conventional mining cost models are now complete 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.
The consortium identified 14 key ¡VAMOS! components which could be exploited either in combination or individually both for the original intended purpose and with modifications applied to related onshore and offshore industries. Market analysis shows that there is predicted growth and in particular a need to optimise production costs. Negotiations are underway between¡VAMOS! partners and external parties to further develop the approach.
The project was disseminated via 75 informal publications, at 10 exhibitions, in 35 conferences (4 as organiser) and approximately 300 social media activities.
The project has been successfully completed. The main thrust of the project was 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 remotely controlled approach we have developed removes personnel from the pit, thereby improving safety. From an environmental perspective, compared to conventional land mining, this system creates no dust, there is no blast or fleet noise, there is no blast vibration, no lowering of the groundwater table, less waste material mined (for some types of deposits) and there is no discharge of mine water into surrounding water courses. Consequently the major societal impact would be in terms of growth and jobs in downstream activities, rather than within the mining process itself. High grade resources which cannot currently be mined effectively using conventional techniques can be accessed using the technique. It can be used in abandoned mines, for mine extensions and indeed for mining of some deposits which have been ignored from a conventional mining perspective – for instance those which are hydrologically challenging.

From an equipment and innovation perspective the main items which have extended the state of the art are:

(a) Submerged cutting and ore collecting technologies and systems
(b) An underwater hydraulically powered tool changer.
(c) A configurable and modular launch and recovery vessel (LARV) system – which can be deployed within the standard EU transportation weight and width limits
(d) Improvements in dredge pump and slurry circuit technology
(e) Positioning, navigation and awareness capability in turbid and reflective environments within a supervisory system which provides an accurate real-time, virtual reality pilot view
(f) Improvements to LIBS ore-quality measurement techniques using an auto-learning database which is capable of immediate mineral identification – not just individual element spikes.

It is the combination of these items, along with existing technology, into an operating system that will derive the major benefits from a clean mineral extraction perspective going forward. We have successfully demonstrated the key aspects of this prototype system in real mines. The individual items themselves have application in many other areas such as mineral processing, offshore decommissioning and many other arenas.
Prototype mining machine build
Lee Moor test site following civil works
VAMOS Launch and Recovery Vessel
Virtual reality view of prototype Mining Vehicle
Lee Moor test site