Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology recently provided updates on the status of its cutting technologies being used on Soil Machine Dynamics’ (SMD) designed and built undersea/submerged mining production tools, namely for Nautilus Minerals’ Solwara 1 copper-gold marine mining project in PNG (see below for a Nautilus update), and the ¡VAMOS! project, where the mining vehicle has successfully been tested at the former kaolin mining pit of Lee Moor in the UK, which is being demobilised and for transport to the second test site in Bosnia and Herzegovina in spring 2018, where Sandvik’s cutter will face will face the granite bedrock of the Smreka iron open-pit.
Sandvik, Damen (supplied the dredge pumps and valves) and Soil Machine Dynamics (SMD) worked together on the marine mining project for Nautilus Minerals, where Sandvik provided the cutting units for the world’s first deep sea mining equipment that will be used in the Solwara 1 mining project in PNG. Nautilus recently provided an update on the project in its Q3 2017 results. The Seafloor Production Tools (SPTs) consisting of the Sandvik Auxiliary Cutter, Bulk Cutter, and Collecting Machine remained in PNG during the quarter undergoing submerged trials at a facility near Port Moresby. The objective of these trials is to demonstrate the equipment meets functional performance specifications with respect to stability, cutting efficiency, collection efficiency, and visualisation technology. The Collecting Machine trials were successfully completed indicating that the machine can perform to design specifications with no serious issues or fatal flaws emerging. The submerged trials for the Auxiliary Cutter commenced during the quarter. Papua New Guineans engaged to operate and maintain the SPTs have been gaining invaluable operating experience during the trials for which the supplier, Soil Machine Dynamics is providing vendor support.
“The idea of ¡VAMOS! was inspired by the Nautilus project, which is one of the most important currently ongoing marine mining projects,” says Uwe Restner, Product and Commercial Manager, Hard Rock Continuous Mining and Mechanical Cutting at Sandvik. “As Sandvik wants to keep a foot in the door for the future submerged mining market, we were keen to participate in ¡VAMOS! as this is a project that pushes for further innovation in the mining equipment sector.” The initial proposal was that Sandvik should supply just the cutting equipment, but at an early stage SMD asked Sandvik to make the frame for the underwater mining vehicle as well. “While doing the frame we ended up supplying the whole base unit containing the frame, the cutting unit at the front and the back stabilisation,” Restner says.
Sandvik says the manufacturing has required a lot of modifications to standards, but even if the partners are based in different countries there have been very few technical glitches, and nothing too big to rectify on site. “The technical coordination has been challenging, but the fact that a lot of new technology is involved is also a huge benefit,”
Restner says. “¡VAMOS! is a technical demonstration of how different subsystems can work together. The result is a fully remote-controlled and reliable mining system with a built-in evacuation plan to make sure no equipment is lost in operation.”
Besides being a testing ground for new mining technology, the project is expected to yield many other positive outcomes. Mining under water means minimal waste-removal cost compared with open-cut mining. There are minimal dewatering costs, minimum costs for barrier construction or barrier maintenance, and no drawdown on aquifers that can affect groundwater or neighbouring areas. “And there will be no blasting noise, no ground vibration, no dust nuisance, no personnel in the mine, and it will be a quicker set-up with cheaper capital costs than in an underground mine,” Restner says.