Technology

Jan 1, 2018

MINNING WITHOUT EXPLODING

Mining is one of the basic sectors of the economy. However, like all natural resource exploration, mining activity causes impacts on the environment. To minimize such damage, a European Consortium has created a machine to extract raw materials from mines in Europe, less polluting and safer.

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By SAMIR NABIL

Mining and agriculture, as well as forestry, energy production, transport, construction (urbanization, roads, etc.) and basic industries (chemical and metallurgical) are economic activities with greater environmental impact on Earth.

Mining, especially, cause a considerable environmental impact, changing dramatically the mined area and surrounding areas, where deposits are made sterile and tailing ponds. To minimize environmental damage, a European Consortium created for mining equipment without resorting to explosions.

This consortium, consisting of nine European countries, is developing a new, safer and less polluting equipment, to extract raw materials from mines in Europe, without resorting to explosions and without contaminating the water.

This new method "brings great environmental advantages because cease to exist explosions and nearby disturbances surrounding the mines. No trucks are needed to transport the ore to the surface and avoid the contamination of the water table", reveals Eduardo Silva, responsible for ¡VAMOS!" (Viable Alternative Mine Operating System) of the Institute of Systems Engineering and Computers, Technology and Science (INESC TEC).

The project "¡VAMOS!", started in 2015, has a total investment of 12.6 million euros, 9.2 million of whom are funded by the European Commission, and counts on partners from Portugal, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Spain, the Netherlands, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Austria, Slovenia and Germany.

The prototype under development is a mining machine with remote supervision, consisting of a tool that continuously cracks the rock that, in its turn, is drawn to the surface, where stands a system that gives support to mining, he explained.

According to the investigator, in the traditional processes of mining we withdraw the water from the mine for the extraction of ores, which carries "a serious environmental problem".

This problem, he continued, can be solved by using an equipment such as the developed in this project, which does not require the withdrawal of water.

Europe wants to restore mines

"For too many years, Europe stopped worrying about basic raw materials extraction, as the environmental and economic forces gained terrain against mining in the 20th century, after World War II", he pointed.

Due to that, mining in Europe has diminished along the time and, currently, about 96% of raw materials are imported from African countries or from Latin America, China, India and Australia.

"If all of the sudden these connections and alliances would vanish, Europe would be very bad, because they wouldn't have the necessary raw materials to feed its industry", he continued.

Eduardo Silva said that, for some years now, European countries decided to re-analyse the chance to increase their investment in extraction, since there are in Europe approximately 30000 abandoned mines, of which about 2000 are at open sky.

The first test with this prototype was carried out in the United Kingdom, at the end of October, and the results were very encouraging.

"We are very pleased with the positive results of this first test phase", especially "the fact that we managed to overcome the civilian problems and we had good access to the well at Lee Moor" in the United Kingdom, indicated Stef Kapusniak, technical coordinator of the project, referred to a statement from INESC TEC.

Other points to note are "the increment of the capacity of differentiation of minerals", "data processing almost in real time", providing "good images to the pilots" and the "proper functioning of the integrated control systems", adds the project leader in United Kingdom.

Eduardo Silva already ensured that they are "very happy" with the results achieved by this phase of the project, ensuring that this new form of mining will contribute to the recovery of the European mining industry.

"In the first stage, allowing us to consider going back to activity in a substantial part of the abandoned mines in the last years and, in a second stage, contributing with the technology for mining in the deep sea", he added.

The prototype is being dismantled in the United Kingdom and prepared for transportation to the next demonstration place, where experiences will be performed in different condition mines.

Environmental pollution

Throughout many decades, mineral extraction (quarries, mines and mining companies) has been an activity which causes huge environmental impact, many of them irreversible.

Mining exploration itself, is already a non-sustainable activity, what means, whatever is extracted will never again be replaced, and there are many procedures which need to be applied in order to minimize the environmental impact of the activity in the vegetable coverage, preservation of water streams, regional fauna and flora maintenance, noise pollution control and the disposal of garbage, etc.

The environmental effects are associated, generally speaking, to the different stages of mineral goods exploration, such as the opening of the pits (vegetation withdrawal, diggings, land replacements and local landscape changings), onto the use of explosives in dismantling rock (atmospheric overpressure, land vibrations, ultra-launching of fragments, smoke, gases, dusts, noise), the transport and ore processing (generating dust and noise), affecting resources such as water, land and air, besides the local populations.

The main environmental impacts caused by the mining exploration are the changing of water streams; increased content of sedimented material in suspension, promoting silting; deforestation; distortion of the relief; destruction of fauna and flora; changing of the atmosphere (increased quantity of suspension dusts in the air); and changes in the geological processes (erosion, gullies, hydrogeology), among others.

Contacts * www.vamos-project.eu

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