Saturday, 23 February 2019
Sea it to Believe it: Nautilus Minerals’ seabed mining journey

Sea it to Believe it: Nautilus Minerals’ seabed mining journey

Republished with permission of Mining IQ. To read the full article, go to the Austmine 2015 website.

Some call it an experimental industrial field; others a new frontier. Either way, deep-sea mining is a reality that only a handful of companies have pursued.

Nautilus Minerals in particular is the first operator to embark on commercial exploration and development of polymetallic seafloor massive sulphide (SMS) deposits. It’s a journey that has seen the company reach new heights – or more appropriately, new depths.

The Project – called Solwara 1 – is situated in the territorial waters of Papua New Guinea, from which Nautilus plans to produce copper, gold and silver. Mining IQ caught up with the operator’s VP of Projects, Kevin Cain, to get exclusive insight on the latest developments and project features.

“We are 30 kilometres offshore from the nearest coast, which is New Island, and at a depth of 1,600 metres. SMS deposits have very high grade copper, gold and silver compared to those that are land-based. We are relatively fortunate that the Bismarck Sea is sheltered, providing a benign location,” he explains.

The SMS deposits are formed by the actions of hydrothermal vents, which means there are many to be found globally.

But through the exploration programs in the Bismarck Sea, Nautilus has identified a number of possible prospects and configured its mining infrastructure to be mobile.

As a result, the operator can establish a project pipeline – literally set up shop, work, pack up and move to the next site. From a strategic perspective, it’s an advantage to the operational costs for Nautilus. 

“We have three seafloor mining machines supported from a production support vessel. In place is a riser and lifting system that transports the slurry from the seabed to the production support vessel. The seafloor machines were designed to ensure high availability and low maintainability,” Kevin notes.

One of the challenges facing Nautilus is the hyperbaric effect from the water pressure, due to the sheer depth of the deposits. Extensive research has gone into determining the cutting energy and configurations required to break the material suitable for slurry transport.

At this stage, the team expects to break up the material into 50 millimetre pieces or less to transport as a slurry without much re-work. 

Republished with permission of Mining IQ. To read the full article, go to the Austmine 2015 website.


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