A new pan-European R&D project to build an underwater mining robot calls on Trelleborg’s industrial expertise.
After centuries of mining, Europe’s more accessible mineral deposits are largely depleted. Deeper-lying resources remain submerged in mines abandoned after flooding or in unmined deposits below the water table. At the same time, the European Union (EU) consumes about 25 percent-30 percent of the world’s metal production, whereas its extraction accounts for only around 3 percent of global ore production mined. As a result, the EU’s needs for metal are met by importing about 200 million tons of minerals each year.
Now, a 42-month research and development project is underway to tap into this unexploited mineral wealth. At an estimated cost of some 12.6 million EUR, the aim of the ¡VAMOS! (Viable Alternative Mine Operating System) project is to design and build a robotic, underwater mining prototype for field tests at four inactive submerged mineral deposits, three of which are inland in Portugal and Herzegovina with one off the British coast. The revolutionary mining technique involves remote operation of the underwater mining equipment from an onshore control station without affecting the local groundwater level.
¡VAMOS! is a consortium of 17 partners from nine EU countries, including the Trelleborg Offshore & Construction facility in Ridderkerk, the Netherlands. Jacco Vonk, Business Development Manager at the site, says the company was chosen for its technical expertise following a Europe-wide tender. “We are always on the lookout for new opportunities,” he says. “And we are particularly eager to participate in projects involving renewable resources, working toward cleaner and safer methods.”
Building on deep-sea excavation techniques, the prototype will provide a safer option as the water pressure stabilizes old mines, making them reusable.
Vonk’s colleague, Research & Development Manager Dirk Jan van Waardhuizen, adds that ¡VAMOS! is cleaner, too. “The vehicles and machinery involved in open-pit mining in the past were an environmental problem,” he says. “But this is no longer the case as even the water is returned after the minerals have been separated.”
He and the other eight team members working on the project are responsible for developing the 200-meter riser hose connecting the underwater mining vehicle to the support vessel on the surface, as well as the 300-meter floating slurry hose that conveys the excavated slurry to the shoreline for dewatering. “The challenge here is producing hoses that are flexible, durable and have a specific gravity just below that of water,” van Waardhuizen says. “And ike everything else about ¡VAMOS! we have to start from scratch.”
In addition to the usual tasks involved in a project of this kind, such as keeping operations running smoothly, adhering to deadlines and liaising with the coordinators in the UK, van Waardhuizen points out that since this is part of the Horizon 2020 program, a close eye has to be kept on expenses. “After all, it’s all taxpayers’ money,” he says.
Trelleborg will be involved in the ¡VAMOS! project for a total of two years, helping to ensure that money is invested wisely.
Horizon 2020 is the largest EU Research and Innovation program ever with nearly 80 billion EUR of funding available over seven years (between 2014 and 2020). It promises breakthroughs, discoveries and world firsts by taking great ideas from the lab to the market. Seen as a means to drive economic growth and create jobs, Horizon 2020 has the political backing of Europe’s leaders and the Members of the European Parliament.
This is an article from Trelleborg's T-Time magazine. To download the latest edition, go to: www.trelleborg.com/t-time
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