Neptune Minerals’ “BABY STEPS” approach, which allows for the mitigation of risk and accommodation of variability and adaptability to regional circumstances, was employed in developing our proposed system for mineral extraction.
This approach ensures capital is well employed and that optimal production and effectiveness are achieved with our minerals extraction systems in a broad field of applications.
Our methodology for mineral extraction, which includes using existing off-the-shelf equipment and systems, lower and more manageable production rates, and a scalable approach, is a key factor that differentiates Neptune Minerals from other companies that are pursuing the commercial mining of SMS material.
There are several advantages that differentiate SMS mineral extraction methodology and extraction from land-based deposits.
These are primarily that capital spent on infrastructure is employed over various deposits because:
- the “mine” is mobile and can be relocated when the run of the mine at a specific location is exhausted,
- there is no need for expensive infrastructure such as roads and shafts and,
- the high grade of the deposits means that a good cumulative total can be achieved from a relatively large number of modest-sized deposits.
The mineral extraction system is comprised of several systems and components, which include:
The mining vessel is a standard commercial vessel design capable of, or converted to be, Dynamic Positioning 2 (DP2) certified and fully certificated and classed for the intended service. The converted vessel is suitable for a full range of loading and unloading operations at the wind, wave and current conditions expected.
Grab Mining Tool & Grab Remotely Operated Vehicle (GROV)
The method of extraction is a grab mining tool that is an unmanned industry standard grab modified to operate subsea. The grab is lowered to the seafloor by a winch system and executes the mining activity. The grab is moved and positioned by means of a ROV that acts on the grab cable.
The grab is operated and controlled from the remotely-located control room on the vessel and subsea operations are monitored and controlled using video cameras, sonars and subsea positioning systems. After extraction, the grab deposits the ore into one of the bins located nearby to be transported to the surface.
Subsea Hauling System and Bins
Two subsea bins are used to transport mined ore from the seafloor to the surface. The bin system is specifically designed so that there is no contamination of the water column and/or erosion of material during the ascent process.
Material Sizing and De-Watering System
This system removes surplus water from the material tipped out of the bin. This water is captured and de-gritted before being stored for return to the seafloor in the empty bin.
All dewatered material is sized and transported to the ore storage on the vessel. During this process, there is an automatic sampling process that provides samples for geological and assay evaluation in the on-board laboratory, as well as samples for subsequent other inspections.
Ore Storage System
The storage system is capable of holding sufficient ore; thereby minimizing the number of unload cycles required to achieve production. The ore storage facility is covered, protecting the ore from rain and the elements.
The ore storage system provides further dewatering during storage. This water is pumped to the water storage system which prevents the surface water from being contaminated.
Material Handling & Offloading System
The offloading of ore in the storage system is automated and is capable of loading ore into various types of carriers that are tied up alongside the mining vessel.
Environmental Planning & Management
Neptune Minerals has committed to following an environmentally responsible program during all phases of mining development while not only complying with, but exceeding where practicable, all national and international environmental standards.
In 2011, Neptune Minerals commissioned an independent environmental audit by Coffey Environments. This noted that Neptune Minerals’ proposed approach of progression through pilot mining prior to mining ensures a precautionary approach, whereby valuable research and impact assessment information is gained at pilot scale without compromising the overarching environmental goals of conservation.
The Company’s proposed mining technique is being developed in conjunction with environmental interests to eliminate impacts wherever possible. Examples of this approach include the following:
- discrete camera guided grabs to avoid biologically significant areas and minimize areas of direct impact;
- sealed recovery bins to minimize plume and dissolved toxins dispersal;
- no offshore processing – no dumping or disposal of mining by-products or wastes at sea;
- treatment and minimization of return waters;
- use of an ‘adaptive management’ approach involving monitoring on a real-time and on-going temporal basis to allow adjustment during exploratory and mining activities.
It is anticipated, based on existing science and research, that we will be able to manage the levels of environmental impacts associated with mining at a level that would be acceptable to the international vent research and South West Pacific Island communities. This outcome will be accomplished through a process of avoidance, minimization and mitigation of impacts where necessary. In this process, we are also in a position to provide new research and insight into these deep sea communities to aid the development of enhanced environmental protections for these communities during future extraction processes.