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Korea Institute of Ocean Science & Technology

World’s First Verification Test of Deep-sea Manganese Nodule “Lifting System”

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  • Date : 2016-01-20

Opening up new possibilities for the commercialization of technology for mining deep-sea mineral resources


The Korea Institute of Ocean Science and Technology (KIOST) announced that it has developed a lifting system that transports manganese nodules through a pipe from the sea floor to a mining ship on the surface of the water and successfully conducted verification testing at sea.

 

Conducted from December 14 to 24, 2015, through a collaboration between KIOST and the Korea Research Institute of Ships and Ocean Engineering (KRISO), the test was held 35 kilometers from shore northeast of Guryongpo, Nam-gu, Pohang, at a depth of about 1,200 meters.

 

Manganese nodules contain large amounts of strategic metals, including nickel, cobalt, and copper, which are used as basic materials for the latest research and development in numerous industries. Sometimes called “black underwater bonanza,” they are a treasure troves of minerals and metals that have accumulated on the deep-sea floor at a depth of approximately 5,000 meters.   

                                                                                                                                  

These deep-sea manganese nodules are collected using a mining robot and subsequently transported to a mining ship through a pipe. However, this new technique includes a buffer system?which serves as an interim storage place?that has been installed at a depth of 500 meters. Manganese nodules are stored in the buffer system before being transported to a mining ship through a lifting riser, a structure made up of a lifting pump and pipes.  

 

With the successful test operation of the buffer system, lifting pump, and real-time, remote-control software, Korea has proven its capability to lead the development of deep-sea mineral resources. In addition, the nodules were transported to the ship and separated from the sea water, and the sea water was discharged from the ship, verifying the performance of on-ship processing as well.

 

Furthermore, by using the world’s first eight-inch lifting riser, which was designed for submerged arc welding (SAW), Korea’s exclusive patented technology and the technological prowess of Korean marine equipment companies were once again proved to the international community. 

In particular, the buffer system that was verified through this test features a design exclusive to Korea and was developed by KRISO. It stores manganese nodules and controls the quantity supplied to the ship using the lifting pump, playing an instrumental role in the safety and economic efficiency of the mining process.  

 

As the entire process?from the handling of the structures and equipment of the lifting system to the design, production, installation, and operation of the treatment facilities on the mining ship?was conducted using Korea’s unrivaled technology, a foundation for the development of the basic design of deep-sea mining plants (FEED) has been secured, which is a significant accomplishment in and of itself.  

 

Following the successful performance test of the deep-sea mining robot “MineRo,” which was carried out at a depth of 1,370 meters in July 2013, the core technology for the mining of manganese nodules has now been completed with this recent verification test. The development of this technology has been carried out as part of the Pacific Deep Sea Mineral Resources Development Project, which was initiated by the Korean government in 1994.  

Thanks to this project, and based on more than 20 years of research on and development of deep-sea mineral resources, Korea has been able to acquire core mining technology for the purpose of commercialization. Experts believe that the recent test will serve as an important catalyst for Korea to become a leader of the development and commercialization of technology related to the mining of manganese nodules on the global stage.

 

This technology for excavating underwater mineral resources has been designed for use in extreme environments, and with its success, it will likely be applied in other fields as well, including shipbuilding and marine industries.

 

As Korea is highly dependent upon imports of natural resources, the government has focused on the development of underwater mineral resources with the goal of expanding the country’s ocean economical territory  and securing a stable, long-term supply of future resources.

 

In 2002, the Korean government acquired sole prospecting rights over the Clarion-Clipperton (C-C) Zone, located about 2,000 kilometers southeast of Hawaii, from the International Seabed Authority (ISA). This has facilitated Korea’s exploration of manganese nodules, located within the exclusive exploration and mining area (75,000 square kilometers), and the development of related technology for the purpose of commercialization.

 

Korea is the seventh country to conduct development activities in the Pacific C-C region’s exclusive mining area, which is estimated to contain reserves about 560 million tons of manganese nodules. Of this amount, Korea will be capable of mining three million tons annually for over 100 years, generating more than KRW 2 trillion via import replacement, once the development and commercialization processes are completed.   

 

Korea has thus far secured the rights to explore a total area of 112,000 square kilometers, made up by the Pacific C-C region, Central Indian Ridge, Tonga EEZ, and Fiji EEZ and amounting to nearly 1.12 times the size of South Korea (approximately 100,000 square kilometers). The mining technology that Korea has developed will also be used for the development of other mineral resources, such as underwater polymetallic sulphides and manganese crusts.

 

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Last Update : 2020-03-07