¡VAMOS! mining concept for submerged inland mining on any continent

¡VAMOS! equipment on trial at Lee Moor, Devon, UK

Today, the WEDA Dredging Summit and Expo 2018 starts1. Tomorrow, Olivier Marcus is going to present a paper on the ¡VAMOS! project2, I assisted co-authoring. The message we wanted to convey is the applicability of the ¡VAMOS! system we’ve developed in a European Research and Development consortium3. By now we were well acquainted with the European Situation, but as this was going to be presented in the United States I had to do some research all over, for the American market situation. It turned out that ¡VAMOS! concept could be used their as anywhere else.

Schematic of typical vertical ore body in an opencast or submerged setting (Credit: ¡VAMOS!)

First of all, some explanation what the ¡VAMOS! project is about. We’ve noticed that here in Europe mineral resources are heavily depleted or located at locations that are not accessible due to their economic or environmental value. One solution would be to dig deeper, but in open cast mining, you’ll run into an enormous overburden removal and drainage problems. The other is to tunnel mining, but that is very expensive and dangerous. The ¡VAMOS! concept opens up a new approach: submerged mining.

Diagram of the original ¡VAMOS! concept (Credit:¡VAMOS!)

Instead of pumping the water out, we use it to transport the mineral to the plant. And this is very familiar for us in the dredging industry. So, we’ve found another location where we can discover dredging! Usually dredging involves transporting huge volumes of sediment, but the fraction of the ore, that is really paying for the operation tends to be very small. In mining terms it is the ore grade. Depending on the ore grade, the operation can be economically feasible or not. As this is a very fine line, mining economics have already done a lot of research on this and they call it the ‘Exergy Cost’. In short: an operation for low grade ore may be more expensive when the mineral is expensive. In fact, when one is mining sand, the ore grade is 100% and the price will be low, so the profit has to come from its volume.

Exergy cost (kWh) needed for producing a given mineral from bare rock to market. (Credit: Valero)

This model is basically applicable in both the European and the American market. Although the local business mentality will result in different underlying economic calculations. In Europe we were working with a report on the critical resources that are on the agenda of the European Commission4. It turns out, that now the United States has their own list of critical minerals5, just signed into executive order6. The list differs somewhat, but is certainly recognisable. This is a good indication, that the ¡VAMOS! mining concept can be evaluated equally to the other options for the American market.

Medium-Term (2015–2025) Criticality Matrix (Credit: US DOE)

So, who knows, maybe there is an innovative entrepreneur in Olivier’s audience at the WEDA and the first real production model might be put to work in an American mine. At least, when delivering a product like this, we would not have to worry about the Jones Act.

MV handling on LARV at Lee Moor test site in Devon, UK

References

  1. Dredging Summit and Expo 2018, WEDA
  2. WEDA Dredging Summit & Expo, Damen
  3. ¡VAMOS!
  4. EIP on Raw Materials, European Commission
  5. Interior Seeks Public Comment on Draft List of 35 Minerals Deemed Critical to U.S. National Security and the Economy, US Department of the Interior
  6. A Federal Strategy To Ensure Secure and Reliable Supplies of Critical Minerals, Executive Order 13817 of December 20, 2017

See also