The Viable Alternative Mining Operating System (¡VAMOS!) project, funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, now has conceptual design plans for a submerged mining vehicle prototype, along with all its associated equipment.
First reported by IHS Maritime when it kicked off in March 2015, ¡VAMOS! is a 42-month EUR12.6 million (USD14.1 million) R&D programme that has 17 partners from nine EU countries and was launched to find ways to tap into the wealth of unexploited underwater European mineral resources using a safe, clean, and low-visibility method.
Currently, the European Union consumes about 25-35% of the world’s metal production, whilst EU-based mineral extraction accounts for just 3% of global ore production. It means the EU imports around 200 million tonnes of minerals annually.
Crucial to ¡VAMOS!’s success is a remotely-operated mining vehicle that will be launched from a waterborne carriage. Following research carried out in Work Package 2 (WP2), its design has now been delivered to the EU – and the WP2 team has also designed the system’s architecture and its functional specifications.
Of the 17 partners, Damen Shipyards Group’s dredging tools specialist, Damen Dredging Equipment (DDE), leads the system specification and architecture phase of ¡VAMOS! and has responsibility for developing and supplying the slurry circuitry components and the launch and recovery system for the mining vehicle.
Speaking to IHS Maritime, DDE research, development, and innovation manager Frank Bosman commented, “Lots of investigations still have to be made on market viability and environmental impacts. But we’re now going into the building phase to create a prototype demonstrator.
“That will be shipped to four existing mine sites across Europe,” he continued, “and we expect to begin roughly at the start of 2017, depending on our progress and of course conditions at the mine sites.
“We believe the concept is feasible- we wouldn’t have submitted it to the EU otherwise – but we don’t underestimate the challenges. For example, some of the pits have really harsh environments; some have been abandoned for decades and it may be that people have thrown rubbish and debris into them. In addition, the hydrological considerations might prove very aggressive to the equipment, and some pits will have slopes that are likely to be unstable, which we’ll have to cater for.
“The conclusion of WP2, however, demonstrates that the project partnership is functioning well,” he added. “There was good co-operation between all partners, ensuring that everything went to schedule, and all documentation was submitted to the EU on time. We are now looking forward with optimism to the challenges ahead in Work Package 3.”
In WP3 the partners will initially be detailing the system components further, and will focus on verifying and validating the design. “We will look into the elements supplied by the various partners in order to ensure commonality so each piece can be integrated into the whole,” Bosman explained.
As said, ¡VAMOS! is part of the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme, which apart from developing revolutionary underwater mining systems, also looks to enhance underwater sensing; spatial awareness; navigational and positioning technology; as well as provide an integrated solution for efficient real-time monitoring of parameters associated with potential environmental impacts.