Deep-Sea Mining Now Possible with Robots
Kagan Pittman posted on January 01, 2016 |
What dangers and environmental impacts lurk in deep-sea mining?

Deep-sea mining may soon become the next booming industry and robots have a huge part to play.

Nautilus Minerals will be commercially exploring the seafloor in an attempt to discover massive sulphide deposits to mine for high grade copper, gold, zinc and silver.

Nautilus turned to Soil Machine Dynamics, a remote intervention equipment manufacturer, to design robots to effectively mine the minerals. These Seafloor Production Tools  include the Auxiliary Cutter, Bulk Cutter and the Collecting Machine.

The incomplete Auxiliry Cutter (Image courtesy Nautilus Minerals.)
The incomplete Auxiliry Cutter (Image courtesy Nautilus Minerals.)
The Bulk Cutter. (Image courtesy Nautilus Minerals.)
The Bulk Cutter (Image courtesy Nautilus Minerals.)
The Collecting Machine (Image courtesy Nautilus Minerals.)
The Collecting Machine (Image courtesy Nautilus Minerals.)

The technology behind these machines have been adapted from existing technology in the offshore oil and gas and mining industries.

(Image courtesy Nautilus Minerals.)

(Image courtesy Nautilus Minerals.)

Dredge pumps built into the Auxiliary Cutter and Bulk Cutter will deliver crushed ore to a pile site on the sea floor. The Collecting Machine will collect and send the materials in a seawater slurry up a flexible pipe to a subsea slurry lift pump. This pipe which will transport the slurry into a Riser and Lifting System stretching 1.5 km (0.9 mile) vertically.

The delivery will be dewatered on the 227 m (735 ft) long Production Support Vessel and transferred to storage with a cargo handling system. This material will be later transferred to a handymax shipping vessel for shipment to China for processing.

The uniquely designed Production Support Vessel will utilize six engines and seven thrusters, sporting giant A-frames to lower the Seafloor Production Tools. The ship will be able to house 180 crew and mining personnel.

The first deposit Nautilus plans to mine, Solwara 1, sits 1.6 km (1 mile) below the surface of the Bismarck Sea, 30 km (18.6 miles) offshore from Papua New Guinea. The operation is expected to collect 2.5 million metric tons (5.5 billion lbs) of ore and US$1.5 billion worth precious metals.

This first official mining operation will occur in 2018, when production of the Production Support Vessel is complete. However, the completed machines are slated to begin testing in mid-2016.


Deep-Sea Mining may be Dangerous for Environment, but presents Unique Opportunities for Robotics and Engineering.

Marine biologists, green initiatives and even the United Nations are concerned that deep-sea mining will have negative effects on the environments and ecosystems around mining sites. Additional concerns are focused on the readiness of scientists and governments to manage that environmental impact.

Not all experts believe the environments to be mined are so fragile, however.

With every industry changing initiative comes its regulation policies, but this shouldn’t stop big name robotics companies and manufacturers from looking how to step into this emerging industry.

Deep-sea environments hold untapped potential and resources, but are too dangerous and taxing for human exploration.

Advanced robotic equipment can withstand deadly water pressures and be used to not only carry out mining operations, but even make possible the fantasy of deep-sea biodomes and living spaces.

Imagine engineering the solution to rising sea levels by developing underwater homes?

For more information on Nautilus Minerals and their deeo-sea mining operations, visit their website. For more on the developers behind the Production Tools, visit Soil Machine Dynamics here.

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