The overall objective of Blue Mining is to provide breakthrough solutions for a sustainable deep sea mining value chain. This means to develop the technical capabilities to adequately and cost-effectively discover, assess and extract deep sea mineral deposits up to 6,000 m water depths as this is the required range where valuable seafloor mineral resources are found. The control over these three capabilities is the key for access to raw materials, for decreasing EU dependency on resource imports and for strengthening Europe’s mining sector and their technology providers.
Earth provides natural resources, such as fossil fuels and minerals that are vital for human life. As the global demand grows, especially for strategic metals, commodity prices rapidly rise. Thus there is an identifiable risk of increasing supply shortage for metals identified as critical to Europe’s economy. Hence a major element in Europe’s long-term economic strategy must be, to ensure security of supply for these strategic metals. In this rapidly changing global economic landscape, mining in the deep sea has gone from a distant possibility to a likely reality within just a decade. Although deep sea minerals extraction was investigated in the 1970’s, it was abandoned because of changing commodity economics, advances in on-land exploration techniques, growing concern on environmental impact and political and legal aspects with regard to ownership issues. The developmental data from those days, if still available, are not adequate to allow engineering and building of an integral system for extraction of deep sea minerals without additional RTD work. Thus, deep sea mining is yet to attain a Technology Readiness Level (TRL) sufficient to successfully undertake deep sea mining operations, from resource discovery to resource assessment and to resource exploitation.
In principle, a deep sea mining undertaking cycle is much alike the sequence of activities in land mining, i.e. project discovery, exploration, resource definition and scoping studies, pre-feasibility study, feasibility study, project approval and financing and implementation. The difference is the nature of the resource and the extreme environment where the entire value chain activities sequence takes place. Effectively, this means that totally different technologies, hardware and operational procedures are required. Blue Mining has adopted the mining project development approach as the backbone for economic, overall technical environmental and legal evaluation. For the scientific and technical approach, Blue Mining has adopted the “Technology Readiness Level (TRL)” methodology. TRL is a measure used to assess the maturity of evolving technologies (devices, materials, components, software, work processes, etc.) during its development and in some cases during early operations. A TRL outline according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is shown on the right.
The Blue Mining Concept, approach and S/T research delineation is depicted in the figure above. On the left, it shows the phases in deep sea mining project development, going from project discovery, to exploration, resource definition and scoping studies, pre-feasibility study, feasibility study, to project approval and financing and finally to implementation. Even for the most advanced deep sea mining projects no professional full scale feasibility study is publicly available.Blue Mining will develop a blueprint for feasibility studies and validate this blueprint via the evaluation of deep sea mining projects of two different resources: (e)SMS and SMnN.
A thorough and conclusive feasibility study is a pre-requisite for a mining company before taking the decision to go ahead with the implementation of the project.