Subsea Mining Machines Delivered

mining equipment

By Wendy Laursen 2015-11-13 16:14:19

The subsea machines that will be used to mine gold and iron ore nodules offshore from Papua New Guinea have been delivered to Canada’s Nautilus Minerals after five years under construction.

Each of the machines, a bulk cutter, an auxiliary cutter and a collection machine, weighs around 250 tons. All three will operate at depths of around 1,500m in temperatures of 2.6 degrees Celsius. The machines are designed to break rock with much greater force than land machines and must operate at low temperatures to avoid overheating.

The auxiliary cutter is designed as the pioneering tool which prepares the rugged sea bed for the more powerful bulk cutter. These two tools gather the excavated material; the third, the collecting machine, will collect the cut material by drawing it in as seawater slurry with internal pumps and pushing it through a flexible pipe to the subsea pump and on to the vessel via the riser and lifting system.

Video Credit: Chronicle Live

Engineering company SMD of the U.K. built the machines which include components from Caterpillar and Pearson Engineering, reports the U.K.’s Chronicle Live. The mining machines will now be taken to China for testing.

They will be remotely controlled from a purpose-built vessel with a crew of around 130 people. Steel cutting for the vessel took place in September at China’s Fujian Mawei Shipbuilding. 

When completed, the vessel will measure 227m (750-foot) in length and 40m (130-foot) in width with accommodation for up to 180 people. It will generate approximately 31MW of power. All of the mining equipment will be installed in the vessel during the build process to minimize the equipment integration to be completed following delivery of the vessel. The vessel is expected to be delivered in 2017.

Companies involved in providing machinery for the vessel include Siemens and Rolls Royce.

The Solwari 1 Project

Solwara 1 is expected to be the world's first commercial high-grade seafloor copper-gold mine project. The mine site is approximately 30km (18 miles) from shore in the Bismarck Sea in around 1,600m (5,000 feet) of water. The site has indicated resources of one million tons grading 7.2 percent copper, five grams (0.18 ounces) of gold per ton, 23 grams (0.81 ounces) of silver and 0.4 percent zinc. Inferred resources add 1.5 million tons of 8.1 percent copper, 6.4 grams of gold, 34 grams of silver and 0.9 percent zinc.

Nautilus Minerals has signed a contract with Tree C Technology for a simulator and a mining site monitoring system for the project.

Mining is expected to begin in 2018. Nautilus also holds licenses for other sites that are pending approvals.

Environmental Concerns

The NGO Deep Sea Mining Campaign says that many other companies − from Japan, China, Korea, the UK, Canada, USA, Germany, Australia and the Russian Federation − are waiting to see if Nautilus Minerals will be successful. They’ve already taken out exploration licenses covering over 1.5 million square kilometers of the Pacific Ocean floor. In addition, exploration licenses now also cover vast areas of the Atlantic and Indian Ocean.

The NGO says a deep sea mining exploration frenzy is occurring in the absence of regulatory regimes or conservation areas to protect the unique and little known ecosystems of the deep sea.