The outcomes and the future of the ¡VAMOS! project
The 31st of January marked the last day, after four years of designing, producing, assembling and testing, of the ¡VAMOS! project. It has been a long road, but the project team has managed it very well.
Now that ¡VAMOS! is reaching the end of the funded period term, it is time for an internal evaluation of the proposed objectives and to prepare for the future. The project might be over, but the collaboration will continue.
Were the objectives met?
¡VAMOS! started with a clear proposition: to enable access to high-grade EU reserves of submerged, deeper-seated minerals by developing a new safe, clean and low visibility mining technique that proves that currently unreachable mineral deposits can be extracted in an environmentally and economically sustainable way. The ¡VAMOS! team can affirm that this objective was met: we produced and tested a new mining technique that delivers greater environmental and economic value than conventional mining techniques.
The ¡VAMOS! team interacted with stakeholders throughout the project lifetime, and the end-product is a system tailored to their needs and desires – within the technological and budget constraints faced by the project.
1) Specify and develop a prototype underwater, remotely-controlled, mining machine along with launch and recovery equipment;
2) Enhance currently available underwater sensing, spatial awareness, navigational and positioning technology;
3) Conduct field trials in abandoned/inactive mine sites sampling a range of rock types and depths;
4) Evaluate the productivity and cost of operation;
5) Encourage market uptake.
All-in-all the partners feel that the major objectives of the project were met. This was confirmed by the European Commission’s project officer and external reviewer who evaluated the ¡VAMOS! project on the 30th of January 2019. They were happy with the results and their evaluation will be published soon, via this website.
What are the most impressive results?
In just four years, the ¡VAMOS! team managed to design, produce and test a new mining concept from scratch. This was only possible by collaborating closely from between experts from all over Europe. The ¡VAMOS! technology, which included a launch and recovery vessel (LARV), a mining vehicle, a control cabin coupled with virtual reality environments and an EVA (a vehicle to survey and transmit information from flooded mines), achieved the objective that was proposed in the beginning. Furthermore, a set of environmental impact monitoring tools makes ¡VAMOS! a strong contender to mine mineral deposits in inland, open cast mines that are now flooded.
The technology was further validated by being put to work in two sites with very different conditions: one with soft rock and the other with medium density rocks. These rock types and other pre-requisites can be found in around 3,000 abandoned mine sites in Europe alone, which could potentially be exploited with the ¡VAMOS! technology. And, as mentioned before, its value goes beyond mining. There are numerous alternative applications of (parts of) the technology, such as submerged civil engineering works and environmental monitoring.
The ¡VAMOS! project has developed some unique features that have not seen anywhere else before. A LIBS (Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy) system, that allows operators to generate mineralogical information in a few milliseconds, reached a stage that opens up real-time grade control of extracted ore in dry and slurry form. And a powerful Virtual Reality system that helps pilots to monitor, manage and automate the operation, even in conditions where standard sensing technology starts to underperform.
Most of the ¡VAMOS! results can be viewed on the public deliverables that are available for download on the project’s website.
How did the field trials go?
One of the most important and impressive activities in the project were the trials that were carried out with the prototype technology. We tested the full system at two, flooded open-cast mines in Lee Moor, UK, and Silvermines, Ireland, respectively, and trialed parts of the technology at sites in Bejanca and Malaposta in Portugal.
The ¡VAMOS! team wishes to thank all the local stakeholders that helped us out with making these trials possible, above all the respective owners of the test sites.
At Lee Moor, we were kindly granted access to a disused kaolin pit owned by Imerys Minerals UK Ltd. Imerys is a world leader in mineral solutions for industry. Imerys Kaolin is the world’s largest producer of quality kaolin and has deposits and production plants in the USA, France, Belgium, Sweden and Brazil, as well as the UK. ¡VAMOS! is very appreciative that Imerys immediately recognised the potential of the innovative extraction method when we approached them for their cooperation in testing it at one of their currently inactive production sites.
At Silvermines, a small town in the county of Tipperary, we were hosted by Siga-Hydro Ltd, which is the lease-holder of an abandoned and flooded barite open-cast mine. Siga-Hydro is in the process of developing and acquiring approval for building a hydro-electric power storage plant on the hills around the site, with the former barite pit serving as the lower reservoir for the projected system. The hydro-electric power storage plant will become the largest electricity buffer facility for Ireland, with a capacity of 360MW.
In both cases the results from (pre-)surveys, cutting trials and environmental monitoring were shared with the site providers. ¡VAMOS! also benefited greatly from the existing historical data that was abundantly provided by them. In the case of Silvermines, we were supported by Golder Associates and the Geological Survey of Ireland, which was valuable given the complexity of the geology and environmental conditions.
The trial sites were set up by SMD and Damen, with the help of local supply chains that were formed for the project. It was quickly understood amongst the local companies, authorities and communities, that “something was going on” in their area, and ¡VAMOS! became a well-known and welcome phenomenon! Gradually the test team grew with test engineers coming in from BMT (Australia), Inesc (Portugal), Fugro (UK), Sandvik (Austria), Trelleborg (Netherlands) and ZfT (Germany). The teams spent three months at each site, with an actual trial period of approximately six weeks.
A visual representation of how all of this took place can be seen in the project movie.
How about the future?
Over the past few months the project partners have been discussing the exploitation of the technology. It is vital that the partners stay connected and continue to collaborate amongst themselves to further develop this unique mining technique. Especially for this project, a number of reports have been created that include exploitation plans and a future research roadmap. May the future be bright for the ¡VAMOS! technology!
We can report that there is already some interest in ¡VAMOS! from a number of industrial organisations, but we cannot disclose further information on this for now.