What do projects REAL-TIME-MINING, UNEXMIN and VAMOS have in common?

All three project received funding under Horizon 2020 Configuration of Societal Challenge 5: Climate action, environment, resource efficiency and raw materials. REAL-TIME-MINING and VAMOS competed under the same topic in 2014, for the Call: Mining of small and complex deposits and alternative mining. UNEXMIN was granted funding in competition for the Call: New sustainable exploration technologies and geomodels. They connect more than 40 different organizations from 11 EU Member States and Associated Countries and are coordinated in Netherlands, United Kingdom and Hungary.

REAL-TIME-MINING (Real-time optimization and the logistic process in highly complex geological and selective mining settings) is about developing a real-time framework to decrease environmental impact and increase resource efficiency in the European raw material extraction industry. The key concept of the proposed research promotes the change in paradigm from discontinuous intermittent process monitoring to a continuous process and quality management system in highly selective mining operations. Real-Time Mining will develop a real-time process-feedback control loop linking online data acquired during extraction at the mining face rapidly with sequentially up-datable resource model associated with real-time optimization of long-term planning, short-term sequencing and production control decisions. The project will include research and demonstration activities integrating automated sensor based material characterization, online machine performance measurements, underground navigation and positioning, underground mining system simulation and optimization of planning decisions, state-of-the art updating techniques for resource/reserve models.

VAMOS (¡Viable and Alternative Mine Operating System!) will provide a new Safe, Clean and Low Visibility Mining Technique and will prove its Economic Viability for extracting currently unreachable mineral deposits, thus encouraging investment and helping to put the EU back on a level playing field in terms of access to strategically important minerals. Deriving from successful deep-sea mining techniques, the ¡VAMOS! mining solution aspires to lead to: Re-opening abandoned mines, Extensions of opencut mines which are limited by stripping ratio, hydrological or geotechnical problems and opening of new mines in the EU. ¡VAMOS! will design and manufacture innovative automated excavation equipment and environmental impact monitoring tools that will be used to perform field tests in a number of mine sites across Europe with a range of rock hardness and pit morphology.

UNEXMIN (Autonomous Underwater Explorer for Flooded Mines) will develop a novel robotic system for the autonomous exploration and mapping of Europe’s flooded mines. The Robotic Explorer (UX-1) will use non-invasive methods for autonomous 3D mine mapping for gathering valuable geological and mineralogical information. This will open new exploration scenarios so that strategic decisions on the re-opening of Europe’s abandoned mines could be supported by actualised data that can not be obtained by any other ways. Research challenges are related to miniaturisation and adaptation of deep sea robotic technology to this new application environment and to the interpretation of geoscientific data. The most ambitious demonstration will take place in the UK with the resurveying of the entire Ecton mine (UK) that nobody has seen for over 150 years.

In January 2018 joint conference between three projects was held in Bled, Slovenia with the  focus on the use of robotics and automation for mineral prospecting and extraction below sea. One could be confused with conference on deep sea mining taking place in Slovenia with its Adriatic coastline stretching only approximately 43 km. However, it was emphasized by director of Geological Survey of Slovenia that in addition to excellent knowledge, ability to adapt is most important when cooperating in transnational project. The conference brought together experts from the field of geology, mining, robotics, machinery, representatives of minerals industry, mining and construction machinery manufacturers, robotics developers and manufacturers, policy and decision makers in the field of mineral prospection and extraction. Conference started with an introductory plenary, covering topics of subsea mining, future of mining, robotics in Slovenia and introduction to the most technologically advanced mines of its times – Idrija Mercury Mine. Parallel sessions followed, one on hardware and the other on software. In the afternoon, workshops related to technology road-mapping and exploitation took place. Conference also served as a mean to build and strengthen collaboration, network with professionals from the robotics, geology and mining sectors and to share experiences.

The collaboration between projects which are developing innovative technologies, with different stakeholders will give a push in the development of the current technologies, with a fresh look into the work being developed and future steps. Once again it is shown that Horizon 2020 is not only about breakthroughs and discoveries but also about networking, joint activities, collaboration and partnering.