Visualisation of deep sea mining
By Susanne Wellington Hansen
As the global demand for especially strategic metals grows, commodity prices rise. Thus there is a risk of an increasing supply shortage for metals that are critical to Europe’s economy. Mining in the deep sea may just be the answer to this challenge. In deep sea mining, mineral deposits are extracted at water depths of up to 6,000 m as this is where valuable seafloor mineral resources are found. There are various synergies with technologies for ultra-deep drilling and subsea production systems in offshore oil & gas.
Ramboll is presently involved in one of the world’s largest research projects on deep sea mining. An international consortium of 19 large industrial enterprises and research organisations are developing solutions that will bring deep sea mining a step closer to the commercial phase. The so-called “Blue Mining” project is addressing all aspects of the value chain, from resource discovery to resource assessment and from exploitation technologies to the legal and regulatory framework. The EURO 15 Million project is partly funded by the partners, partly by the European Commission.
Although the specific impact of deep sea mining on the marine ecosystem is not yet known in full detail and has to be further assessed during pilot mining tests, it can be expected that due to the availability of highly automated and advanced technologies deep sea mining in general has a smaller impact on the environment than land-based mining. The challenge is to adequately and cost-effectively discover, assess and extract the minerals in a sustainable manner so that the mining impact on the marine environment will be as low as possible. The objective of the Blue Mining project is to develop the technical capabilities required to successfully undertake deep sea mining operations.
Deep sea mining is very different to land-based surface and underground mining. “Due to the nature of the resource and the extreme environment, totally different technologies, hardware and operational procedures are required”, explains Alexander Mitzlaff, Project Manager in Ramboll.
One key aspect of Ramboll’s Blue Mining work stream is the development and qualification of a new riser based vertical transport system.
Ramboll is also responsible for risk management of the entire project, a job which is jointly funded by the EU and the industrial partners.
Interim results of the Blue Mining project were presented to the partners and the European Commission on 9-11 March at the General Assembly in Delft. The final results of the project will be available on 31 January 2018 after a 48-month project period.
For the German Government the prospects and economic benefits of deep sea mining are paramount in view of the development of the markets for strategic metals and of the specific technologies including the complex metallurgical processes for extracting the metals.
Therefore, in December 2015 Ramboll has been commissioned by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy with a study on the commercial viability and economic benefits for Germany of commercial deep sea mining in the international license areas owned by the German state.
This study shall support the German government in developing its strategy for a transition from Germany being one of the world leaders in exploration and environmental impact assessment for deep sea mining towards the development and application of technologies on an industrial scale in European or international cooperation.
Ramboll has teamed up with the Hamburg Institute of International Economics (HWWI) for this study. The final study report will be submitted to the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy in September 2016.