A massive deposit of copper and gold was discovered 5,200 feet deep off the coast of Papua New Guinea. Nautilus Minerals, a canadian company, acquired the necessary permits and formed a partnership with SMD machines, a U.K. company, to solve the engineering problems associated deep sea mining.
Nautilus estimates the massive deposit contains over 1 million tons of minerals and precious metals. Estimated yearly production could yield 80,000 tons of copper and 150,000 ounces of gold. There is enough copper there to last for the next 30 years of consumption according to Nautilus estimates.
The sheer amount of material and its deep location underwater presented a unique engineering problem. Nautilus and SMD originally planned to design one undersea vehicle to do all the underwater tasks. After several in-depth studies were conducted it became apparent more specialized individual machines would be required.
3 Component System
The team came up with a 3 component system, a Production Support Vessel (PSV), Riser and Lifting System (RALS), and 3 Seafloor Production Tools (SPTs).
The PSV is the backbone of the system with the crew remotely operating all undersea vehicles from the ship.
The ship has 4 storage holds that will temporarily hold the excavated material before being put on a transport vessel to China.
The PSV will transport all the components to the site and can move the operation from site to site.
Marine Assets Corporation, based in Dubai, will own and provide management of the ship. Nautilus is chartering the PSV for 5 years at a rate of $200,000 dollars a day.
The Riser and Lifting System transports the excavated material up to the PSV.
The massive pump, by GE Hydril, pumps the slurry up the rigid riser pipe into the PSV’s hold.
Each machine is around 50 feet long, 15-20 feet wide, and weighing around 220 to 340 tons with a combined cost of $100 million.
The Auxillary Cutter
This will be the 1st machine to begin work on the ocean floor.
It is smaller and more maneuverable and will use its boom-mounted cutter head to cut a smooth path. Its purpose is to prepare the area for the Bulk Cutter.
The Bulk Cutter
The Bulk Cutter will follow the Auxillary Cutter along the prepared path and use its large drum cutter to excavate material.
The massive cutting drum with its medieval looking spikes was designed by Sanduik.
The Bulk Cutter has a higher capacity than the AC but is limited to areas the AC has cleared.
Both cutters will pump their excavated materials to stockpiles for the Collecting Machine
The Collecting Machine
The Collecting Machine is the behemoth of the 3 at 55ft long and the collecting arm almost 30ft. The 275 ton machine will mine the stockpiles compiled by the cutters.
The massive collecting arm will suck up the pile of sand, gravel and silt and pump it to the RALS.
Undersea Minerals vs Land
The 500 million dollar copper-gold project is named Solwara 1 and set to begin in 2018.
Written by: Paul VB
Source: Nautilus Minerals, Financial Times
Image Credit: Nautilus Minerals