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China’s lifting pump piping system for deepsea mining completed its first sea trial

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Recently, good news came from the South China Sea that the lifting pump piping system for deepsea mining completed its first sea trial successfully in the South China Sea on June 16-20, 2016. The system, supported by the “key technology and equipment for the mining and delivery of deepsea polymetallic nodules and cobalt-rich crusts” project under National 863 Program undertaken by Changsha Research Institute of Mining & Metallurgy Co., Ltd. (CRIMM), a subsidiary of China Minmetals, successfully passed the acceptance of the sea trial acceptance group of National 863 Program. This is China’s first sea trial of monomer engineering technology for deepsea mining, presenting China's deepsea mineral conveyor technology to the world. It is understood that only the United States, Japan and South Korea in the world had successfully conducted such trials.

This sea trial was conducted by CRIMM, with participants including 701 Research Institute of China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC), RICHTECH International Engineering (Shanghai) Co., Ltd., and South China Sea Branch of State Ocean Administration. The “Changhe Ocean” ship for this sea trial was provided by Tehe Ocean Technology Group Limited.

The system for sea trial includes the laying and recovery subsystem for lifting pump pipe and the conveying subsystem for mineral pump pipe, all designed and developed by the above-mentioned units with complete intellectual property rights. This sea trial broke through the safety laying technology under storm flow conditions, ensured the safety of underwater equipment, and achieved safe & efficient laying and recovery of piping and pump in the complex marine conditions. Besides, it broke through the multi-stage centrifugal pump delivery technology under conditions of suspension, ensured the smooth flow of coarse particles and the stability of pipeline stress, and achieved stable delivery of simulated polymetallic nodules of coarse particles and high concentration for long distance and large flow.

In this sea trial, the water depth for pipe-laying was 304m, total pipeline length was 638m, slurry volume flow was 500m3/h, and throughput of polymetallic nodules was 50t/h, meeting the National 863 Program project requirements as well as breaking through the key technologies that have not been understood for many years in the research of deepsea mining system in China.

As a big consumer of resources, China needs consistent supply of resources for its rapid economic development. However, its dependence on imported resources such as iron, manganese, copper, lead, zinc, nickel and cobalt has increased steadily, with some up to 90%. Resource security will be the constraint on China’s growth into a world power.

There are abundant mineral resources in the sea. Those with prospects and value for commercial development at present include polymetallic nodules, cobalt-rich crusts and polymetallic sulphides, etc., which are the important source for the future development and utilization of valuable metals (copper, manganese, nickel, cobalt, rare metals, etc.). As land resources are increasingly depleted today, marine mineral resources will be the important and indispensable resources for the sustainable development of human society and economy. In the long run, the development of deepsea mineral resources is the only way for the development of economy.

However, the exploitation of marine mineral resources is a complicated systematic project, involving many subjects. It requires the most cutting-edge technologies, and is also a symbol of a country's comprehensive capacity and technical level of development of marine resources. The huge water pressure of deep seabed, the serious attenuation of electromagnetic wave propagation in sea water, the complex flow field of the deep sea, etc., make the development of deepsea mineral resources face extremely serious, adverse and extraordinary environments. At present, the global marine mineral resources have not yet achieved commercial exploitation, so no mature development model can be used for reference.

The Report of 18th CPC National Congress put forward that “We should enhance our capacity for exploiting marine resources, develop the marine economy, protect the marine ecological environment, resolutely safeguard China’s maritime rights and interests, and build China into a maritime power.” On February 26, 2016, the Law of the People's Republic of China for the Exploration and Development of Resources in the Deep Seabed Area was passed at the 19th meeting of the 12th National People's Congress and would enter into force since May 1, 2016. This means that China embarked on a new journey of regulating resources exploration and development activities in deep seabed area.

So far, China already has four international seabed mining areas, being placed high hopes on the development of deepsea mineral resources by the international community. Therefore, relevant technical development and reserves becomes an urgent obligation and responsibility of China.

China Minmetals is the guarantee of national mineral resources security, active practitioner of national maritime strategy, and also China’s first enterprise contractor of international seabed mining area. This sea trial is a milestone event that marks the trial success of China's deepsea mining technology from lake to sea. The marine mining technology developed by CRIMM under China Minmetals completed marine engineering practice from laboratory, which sounded the clarion call of deepsea mining and narrowed the gap between China and the United States in the deepsea polymetallic nodule mining technology. With breakthroughs made in water surface technology, lifting technology, acquisition technology and navigation technology, China will be able to lead the world in the development and utilization of deepsea metal and mineral resources and make a significant contribution to seeking the national security of metal and mineral resources.

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