The transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy revolves around electric infrastructure which requires large amounts of precious metals. Supply from conventional mining might not be sufficient in the near future to meet demand. Therefore, the European Union (EU) is looking for alternative solutions, one of which is deep-sea mining.

Four years ago, a consortium of 19 partners from six EU countries started the Blue Mining programme, which was coordinated by IHC MTI. Together, we developed tools and methods for seafloor mapping, the estimation and economic assessment of resources, and vertical transport technology. These are required for the prospective mining of an extinct seafloor’s massive sulphide deposits and polymetallic nodules.

Internal research

IHC’s role in the scheme focused on the technology for the vertical hydraulic transport of polymetallic nodules. Understanding the flow fundamentals is at the heart of the system’s design. We focused on the questions surrounding the flow assurance of the transport process, including: will the flow be stable? What are the risks of riser blockages? How can it be designed for maximum production while ensuring a stable and safe operation?

The mathematical models and experimental insights that were developed during the project were implemented using IHC’s in-house design software and guidelines. In addition, the scheme created a new standard in slurry transport technology by introducing the largest purpose-built test rig in Europe for experiments of this kind.

IHC also joined forces with the TU Bergakademie Freiberg to gather valuable data regarding vertical hydraulic transport and pump control that would support our internal concepts. IHC’s years of experience conducting dedicated research and scaling up experiments, meant we were fully equipped for such a high level design project. This enabled us to advise on the vertical transport technology that would be suitable for the deep-sea mining arena.

Discovering new technology

The driving force of the vertical transport system is delivered by centrifugal pump booster stations, which consist of centrifugal dredge pumps and special subsea motors. The large ambient pressure in the deep-sea – up to even 500 bar – puts an extreme burden on the vertical transport technology, especially the subsea drives and motors.

With pump technology at the core of IHC’s business, the Blue Mining programme provided the perfect opportunity to further develop our deep-sea compatible technology. This resulted in the creation of the Deep-sea Special Motor, which is completely filled, lubricated and cooled using the ambient sea water. This exciting new technology will play a large role in further developing the vertical transport system.

More information about this innovation can be found at:

Curious to learn more about the Blue Mining programme? Download the public report here or visit the project website

Written by

Jort van Wijk
Manager R&D

Blue mining - Vertical hydrolic transport

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