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Robotic underwater miners can go where humans can’t

Robotic underwater miners

The scene across the bombarded Whitehill Yeo pit in Devon, UK, looks like a lunar landscape. Until it had been left only a couple of decades before, an infinite stream of petrol trucks taken china clay from this mine seven days each week.

But do not be tricked by the silence: this is very much a busy website. It is just that all of the excavation is occurring deep under the placid waters. This is a test bed, the very first, to get a new kind of exploration by underwater robots.

They’re a part of a European Union-funded endeavor called, for Viable Alternative Mine Operating System. The target is to extract mineral resources out of abandoned, flooded mine sites formerly considered too dangerous or expensive to get. If the demonstration here in Whitehill Yeo functions, these robots can go international, making raw materials without digging fresh mines, and without the noise or environmental conditions that plague traditional mining.

Whenever that the mine is dug beneath the water table, it floods unless water is continually pumped out. But mines need to be profound: Many metallic ores will be caused by volcanic activity, and the deeper you go, the more elaborate the high quality quality.

Geothermal depths

Finally, even mines with sources still untapped are left because it gets too costly to maintain pumping water out, too shaky to keep miners safe, and too hot to keep them comfy at geothermal depths.

However, what if you can let a mine flooding and maintain working it anyhow? Then, rather than fighting with you, the water could become an ally: the liquid helps raise and transfer stones, cools motors and lubricates cutting gear.

That means blasting and drilling, would eventually become unnecessary. So would cooling at geothermal depths. And since parting of ore and stone is completed onsite, fewer trucks are necessary to transfer it to processing. The robot runs on swamp tracks on the ground of the lake, attached by an umbilicus into some little barge on the water’s surface. It hastens the minerals it locates and sends them as a slurry back up into the barge; following the water is removed from the slurry, it’s returned into the flooded pit.

This strategy even eliminates the toxic wastewater connected with mining. “Limiting the motion of wastewater appears an attractive part of the new procedure,” says Gillian Galford in the University of Vermont.

The path to Whitehill Yeo as being rugged; among the largest problems that the team had to overcome was the way the robot could browse and find itself at the turbid, almost opaque mining water. A brand new place system created by the group’s Portuguese collaborators may pinpoint the mining car’s standing.

The trial in Whitehill Yeo is expected to be finished in the end of October when a comprehensive environmental impact assessment will be released. “So far, we have not observed any ecological consequences beyond the immediate working area, and neighboring water bodies don’t appear to get influenced,” says Ian Stewart an independent environmental consultant with Fugro GB Marine Limited.

“From an ecological standpoint, it is sensible to reopen an present mine instead of excavate a pit that is new,” says Stewart, however, warns it might not be acceptable for all mines. In its next trial, intended for June 2018, the mining robot will confront the granite bedrock of their Smreka iron open-pit in Bosnia and Herzegovina.