Underwater Remote Mining

Underwater Remote Mining

Underwater remote mining (URM) is a technological breakthrough for kimberlite diamond mining. A new innovative solution which originated from deep sea mining and trenching systems, it has allowed Burgundy and Dutch company Royal IHC Mining to take the next step in the future of diamond-bearing kimberlite mining. Ekati Mine and Royal IHC Mining, a supplier of maritime technology, started working together in 2018 to jointly develop this innovative and integrated mining technology. 

The starting point for the development of the URM system was to economically extract kimberlite from marginal kimberlite pipes and from deep extents of completed open pits at Ekati. An important focus was to develop a mining solution that would have a much lower environmental impact than conventional mining methods. As the URM crawler is only mining the kimberlite ore and minimal waste, it significantly reduces the mine’s footprint. The URM solution could allow the Ekati Diamond Mine to extend its lifetime past conventional mining recovery techniques.

The Underwater Remote Mining System

The URM system consists of a floating platform, an underwater mining crawler and a land based dewatering plant. Following years of development work and construction ,the chassis is complete and has been shipped to the UK for assembling its other key components which include the main cutter frame and cutting drum. Construction of the floating platform was completed in late 2022 by Royal IHC Mining and the mining crawler is expected to be completed in early 2024. Pictured below is a conceptual rendition of what the fully assembled launch and recovery platform would look like ready to undergo its first trial at Ekati’s fully flooded Lynx mine pit.

The Underwater Mining Crawler

The underwater mining crawler is a remote operated continuous mining machine, equipped with the latest underwater control and positioning equipment. It consists of four tracks with independent suspension and steering, a centrally placed drum cutter, an ancillary cutter for kimberlite along pipe contacts, a high efficiency dredge pump and submerged hydraulics with biodegradable oil.

The ore is directly excavated with a drum cutter in small layers and eliminates the need for blasting explosives. From the crawler the ore is pumped to the surface of the flooded pit via a vertical pipeline system to the launch and recovery platform, from where the ore is transported further to a dewatering plant. The dewatering plant and slurry lines will be constructed and commissioned on site at Ekati mine . The crawler system is capable of operating at a water depth of up to 400 meters and will be operated remotely from a control room at the edge of the pit. Pictured below are conceptual renditions of the mining crawler

URM Testing

The various components of the URM system will be tested step-by-step with a production trial at Lynx open pit prior to moving on to larger depleted open pits. The first step is flooding of the Lynx pit in summer of 2023. This will be followed by testing of the launch and recovery platform in summer 2024 and then by comprehensive URM system testing in summer 2025; including a trial mining operation targeting the extraction of approximately 180,000 tonnes of Lynx kimberlite ore. Shown below is a conceptual aerial rendition of the future URM set up and trial at Ekati’s Lynx open pit.

The URM solution is a technological breakthrough for kimberlite diamond mining and a sustainable future alternative to conventional mining methods. URM technology has a much lower environmental impact, significantly reducing Ekati’s mining footprint.