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Where will mankind be mining in 50 years?


29.06.2020

The heads of space agencies of Russia, the U.S., Japan and Canada discussed plans to explore the Moon in online mode. NASA representatives, in particular, spoke about their Artemis program and the principles on the basis of which they intend to develop the resources of the Earth’s satellite. Throwing aside the political correctness, the United States made it clear that while it is ready to cooperate in space, it is not going to consider space a public domain.


This became clear back in April, when Donald Trump signed a decree regulating the extraction of raw materials on the Moon. The document, without any hint of delicacy, reserves the right to exploit its subsoil to the Americans. And in fact, it creates prerequisites for their future privatization of any celestial object if it turns out to be commercially attractive.


A number of experts have already managed to compare Artemis with the notorious “Star Wars”, which became one of the reasons for the collapse of the Soviet Union. The leadership of the Soviet Union in the 1980s had to spend huge amounts of money to keep up with the U.S. in the orbital arms race. However, as it turned out later, our country was chasing a ghost: in the 1990s, almost all the technologies created in the West under this program were found to be unprofitable or ineffective.


Probably, this is also going to happen to the new US mega-project. Especially since, in the opinion of many analysts, deep-sea production is much more promising rather than space production,. Today it is absolutely known that in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, at a depth of up to 5 thousand meters, there are huge reserves of copper, nickel, iron, cobalt and many other metals. They lie there directly on the seabed in the form of ferromanganese nodules, cobalt-manganese crusts and deep-sea polymetallic sulphides.

The need for economic progress requires continued increases in raw material extraction. Minerals are needed, among other things, to create new technological chains, such as wind turbines, solar panels, electric cars, computers, and so on. But traditional deposits are becoming increasingly poor, their depth is growing up, and humanity may well face a shortage of resources in the foreseeable future. In order to avoid this, it is necessary to start working today on projects that will provide for the exploitation of fields located in environments other than the traditional ones, for example, deep under water. This experience will not only be a real breakthrough in science and technology, but also a first step towards creating the innovations needed for space mining.

Dmitry Malevanny, fifth-year student of St. Petersburg Mining University.

He was one of the participants in the international competition “Topical problems of subsoil use”, organized by the International Competence Centre for Mining Engineering Education under the auspices of UNESCO. This year, in connection with the regime of self-isolation, the forum was held for the first time in virtual space and brought together young scientists from 49 countries and 180 universities.


Dmitry presented to the experts the improved technology of deep-sea mining of solid minerals with the use of an atmospheric air capsule. In his presentation, he described in detail and scientifically substantiated both the process of rock destruction and lifting on board the ship and several options for its enrichment, on board the ship in particular.


In spite of the fact that presently no country runs deep-water mining, many countries have made significant progress in creating robotic vehicles capable of descending to the ocean depths and industrializing the process of extraction of raw materials from there. For example, China, India and the United Kingdom have already tested the components of mining complexes. There is no doubt that Russia, which owns a vast area of the Pacific Clarion-Clipperton Province, rich in ferromanganese nodules, should be interested in keeping up with these states.

In my opinion, Germany and Japan are the closest to creating a technological chain capable of lifting solid minerals from the ocean depths. Last year, for example, the Japanese successfully tested a mining machine and a transport system. And the Germans tested the collector’s work in real conditions. I would like to specifically mention the efforts of Nautilus Minerals, which obtained a license for deep-sea mining from the Government of Papua New Guinea and was to become a pioneer in the industry. But due to numerous fines and protests from environmentalists, the company declared itself bankrupt and sold its development and use rights to Deep Sea Mining Finance.

Dmitry Malevanny, fifth-year student of St. Petersburg Mining University

Malevanny said that nature’s protectors nowadays are the main deterrent against monetizing the natural resources lying in the ocean. After all, the experience of Nautilus Minerals has clearly shown that the current level of development of engineering thought is quite sufficient to put such a project into practice. Despite the need for colossal initial investments, it will be profitable if the production is at least 3 million tons of rock per year. This level of volume should ensure the implementation of the technology presented by Dmitry Malevanny as part of the competition.

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