The ROBOMINERS project, funded under the EU Horizon 2020 programme, Grant Agreement no. 820971, is developing an innovative solution for the exploitation of small and difficult to access deposits in Europe. This approach is based on a modular, exchangeable robot miner vision. The miner is capable of performing selective mining autonomously while supported by state-of-the-art sensors and capabilities from robotics, raw materials and related areas. Still at the design phase, during this project the prototype robot will be validated within the lab and tested in representative mine targets within the EU, including 1) Abandoned and operating mines or sections with known remaining resources, 2) Small but high-grade mineral deposits and unexplored or explored non-economic occurrences and 3) Ultra depth, not accessible and hazardous environments.
For the mining procedure itself, the process will start with the robot modules (body, sensors, etc) sent underground through a borehole. These modules will then self-assembly to make a modular robot, ready to operate. The miner is able to use its sensors to detect the ore and start mining with tailored production tools. A mineral slurry is produced and pumped out to the surface to be processed. After processing, the slurry can be directed to the inside of the mine to backfill the mined areas, closing the mining loop. Due to state-of-the-art modularity, perception, navigation, autonomy, resilience and sensing, the robot-miner will be able to adapt to the different mining scenarios.
Compared to conventional mining procedures, the ROBOMINERS approach aims at the following benefits:
- No personnel in the mine (Health and Safety)
- Less mining waste produced (Environmental and Social)
- Reduction of mining infrastructure, including during and after mining, i.e. processing (Environmental and Social)
- Less capital investment and quicker set up and demobilization (Economical)
- Opportunity to re-address and fix mine problems (Environmental)
A solution like ROBOMINERS entails a number of socio-economic impacts and benefits when compared to conventional mining or even to some innovative solutions. Directly and indirectly, this approach can contribute to 1) Develop new exploration and exploitation scenarios for European mineral resources, 2) Economic impact in traditional and recent mining regions alike with the possibility to re-open mining, extend mining or opening new mines, contributing in turn to local and regional development, 3) Provide a better answer to social and environmental constraints in support of a Social License to Operate, and 4) contribute and foster research and innovation in mining, robotics and related areas. These impacts are inline with many European policies such as the ones on raw materials, regional development and climate change.