Centuries of underwater volcanic activity have blanketed the ocean floor in precious metals. Now, with the aid of the world's most powerful excavation machines, a company called Nautilus Minerals is set to begin extracting those metals from the first large-scale deep-sea mine. The Toronto-based firm teamed up with the deep-sea trencher specialist Soil Machine Dynamics to build three remotely operated machines. Hybrids of land excavators, sea robots, and vacuum cleaners, they will work together to harvest rock from the seafloor, smash it into bits, and then send it to the surface.
Last year, Nautilus won a 20-year lease from Papua New Guinea to mine in the Bismarck Sea. The company's first customer, Tongling Nonferrous Metals Group of China, has already claimed the entire contents of the first site, Solwara 1, which is roughly the size of 21 football fields and contains 240,000 tons of copper and 25,000 pounds of gold, plus silver and zinc. Although metal prices fluctuate, the total take could approach $3 billion. Nautilus plans to put its machines to work by the end of next year.
HOW TO MINE THE SEAFLOOR
1. From a ship on the surface, a crew sends down remotely operated vehicles (A) to do final surveys and help install 14 sonar buoys, which will track the three mining machines to within 1.5 feet.
2. Workers lower each machine to the seafloor a mile below using a pair of steel cables. One cable provides support (G). The other contains communication, power, and navigation lines (D). During the 1.5-hour descent, operators orient the machine by firing its thrusters (I).
3. Once on the ocean floor, the machines move on Caterpillar-style tracks (J). They send HD video and 3-D sonar maps back to operators aboard the ship.
4. The auxiliary-cutter machine (H) harvests rock from steep and uneven areas on the seafloor. Two hundred tungsten-carbide teeth (K) mounted on an adjustable boom chomp the rock into small pieces. The bulk-cutter machine (B) follows behind, harvesting rock from flat areas using a rotating cylinder (C) equipped with three-inch teeth.
5. Both cutters grind the rocks to under two inches in diameter and then suck them through their bodies, where internal sensors measure the rubble's density, speed of flow, temperature, pressure, and vibration. After that, the cutters deposit it on the seafloor. The process is slow—the cutters will move at about three feet a minute—so the company plans to operate the machines 24 hours a day.
6. The collecting machine (E) follows the cutters and delivers the wet rock slurry to an external 150-ton pump (F) suspended near the ocean floor, which propels the material to the surface through a rubber pipe reinforced with steel and Kevlar.
7. On the ship, a dewatering plant filters the rock slurry and spins it dry. Workers then load the material onto a barge to bring it to shore
Environmental doom in the long run and the current rich get richer. Then the rich in the future will offer a technology solution to fix the sea floor of dead life and get richer at the expense of the tax payers, who will be starving as food becomes scarcer in the world.
I do enjoy science and technology, but inside me and watching the world consume itself with greed, I am losing my 'happy place'.
Exactly, Robot. Current economics is based around privatization of profits and socialization of costs.
There is no life or ecosystems on the moon, mars, the asteroids, other moons around our solar system, etc. Halt funding that is looking for the non-existent life, then push it towards exploring how to economically get at the resources floating around our sun that aren't on earth.
As long as we don't accidently bump something into a collision course with earth we aren't going to hurt anything by mining in space.
The government can't even balance a budget, and they generate revenue by fiat, for crying out loud. Why would anyone believe they could develop a new industry? If government wont/can't do it, something like this would require start up capital. Meaning wealth. Wealthy people invest in ventures like this which ultimately provide products/services/resources to everyday folks. And, yes, sometimes their ventures pay off, in which case they turn a profit. Why does that leave people feeling so damned butthurt? There is no progress without profit.
It's not the profit taking itself, it's the profit taking at the expense of an already dangerously taxed ocean ecosystem. The only way to safely mine the sea floor: you don't.
I have almost no doubt that they'll be allowed to do it, to the ruin of all.
I am not a fan of the corporations that have come to have a hammerlock on certain markets and purposely hold back advancements that would benefit the man on the street. Nor do I care for the crowd that likes to have money so they can spend it on outlandish and pompous accessories to ease their boredom and hope to set a new momentary trend with.
However I am in support of a system where those that take the initiative are rewarded for their efforts. Anyone who has ever started a business (which I have…a small side business that is growing) also knows about all the unpaid hours ( I will stress that adjective again…UNPAID) that go into getting it up and running.
I think that this mining venture is a great idea. There is also something to consider other than just the mining companies making profits from it…the availability of more resources. If this new industry opens up access to larger amounts of resources…the prices for these metals will decrease…which will decrease the price of the products that they are in…which will make them more affordable for the consumer.
Don´t forget that the worlds population is growing. Also, it is growing the fastest in the “developing” countries that are quite dependent on the countries that people have a tendency to name “greedy and capitalistic “ for aid.
So much talk about profits, business, rich/poor...
What if you didn't try so hard every day to accumulate wealth? What if using autonomous robots or remotely controlled machinery would yield enough to give you a comfortable lifestyle working only 2h/day? Would you still waste your life working 60h/week to spend more or to retire early (to an early grave)???
Let me see if I understand correctly. The theory is that "rich people" will somehow become even "richer" by spending far more money extracting minerals from the sea floor than they can sell the minerals for?
The above illustration shows much activity of mining minerals off the ocean floor and a void of fish or other water life. I suspect the illustration to be accurate.
Most of the sea floor is rather lifeless (at least compared to an equal plot of the surface). Would you be upset if this mining was happening in the middle of the Gobi or Sahara?
Since the truely dangerous and toxic part (refinement) is happening on shore, simply gridning and moving rock from point A to point B offer little in environmental damage.
If the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, then isn't that Darwinism at work? If the person working 60hours survives and the one working 2hours starves, then the industrious genes are passed down for the good of the species.
I like the idea, and the extra costs should help the mineral influx from flooding the comodities markets leading to continued supply and economic stability.
De Beers have been using this method for extracting diamonds off the coast of South Africa for years.
The only difference here is the distance they want to send the material... pumps and pipework are going to be worked very hard (if it's feasable at all) to send the mined product up a mile.
When dreging on the seabed it's common to need to replace pipes and clear blockages regularly so good luck to anyone who goes to work on this project, just ask anyone who's worked offshore with a GTO pump or Scanmuddring.
I am sure they would not start with deep sea mining, but rather exploit mineral deposits in shallow waters first, which is were most marine life exists and cause widespread damage. Mining companies have left swathes of destruction all over the world and the public (taxpayer) is eventually compelled to pick up the bill. Rehabilitation must be factored into the cost of mining licences.