A new robotic underwater mining vehicle prototype has completed first stage testing in a project set to uncover valuable European underwater mineral resources.
U.K.-based subsea engineering specialist Soil Machine Dynamics Ltd (SMD) is technical lead on the VAMOS (viable alternative mine operating system) project, a 42-month international research and development venture, which is part-funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program.
At a cost of approximately €12.6 million ($14.9 million), SMD and its partners in the VAMOS Consortium, have designed and built a prototype robotic underwater mining vehicle with launch and recovery technology to perform field tests at four EU mining sites.
“The performance of the system is based on proven remotely controlled underwater excavation techniques made possible by improvements in underwater positioning, navigation and awareness systems,” explained Stef Kapusniak, SMD business development manager – mining.
“It will provide a safer and cleaner option for extracting inland submerged mineral deposits. The technique is suitable for soft to medium strength rock in orebodies below the water table. We envisage application in the form of extensions to existing surface mines, reopening of abandoned unrehabilitated mines and direct application in previously unworked mineral deposits which are in hydrologically challenging ground.
“Testing at the first trial site in an abandoned kaolin mine in Devon went very well. Testing at further sites in different rock types at different water depths will enable confirmation of the system’s potential for industrial scale applications. This is a very exciting time, as completion of testing will enable determination of the practical range of application in this emerging market.”
In November the system will be demobilized and prepared for transport from the U.K. to the second test site in Bosnia and Herzegovina in spring 2018.
The VAMOS project launched in March 2016. The consortium includes 16 members from nine EU countries: other members of the consortium are BMT Group Ltd, Damen Shipyards Group, Instituto de Engenharia Sistemas e Computadores, Fugro EMU Ltd, Zentrum für Telematik e.V., Montanuniversität Leoben, Minerália, Lda, Sandvik Mining and Construction G.m.b.H, Geological survey of Slovenia, La Palma Research Centre for Future Studies, European Federation of Geologists, Trelleborg Ede Bv, Federalni zavod za Geologijo and Fondacija za obnovu I razvoj regije Vareš.