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Mining Riches Beneath the Sea
Nautilus business plan calls for drilling into the ocean floor to identify areas likely to be rich in minerals.
By Mark Ingebretsen

When it comes to mining our planet for vital minerals and ores, we’ve only scratched the surface. Literally. Untold trillions of dollars’ worth of resources await beneath the ocean floor. Until now, extracting them economically was impossible. Robotics changes the equation, however. And Toronto-based Nautilus Minerals Inc. is one of just a handful of companies with a solid approach to unearthing these treasures.

The Nautilus business plan calls for drilling into the ocean floor to identify areas likely to be rich in minerals, using the same tried-and-true technologies as the oil and gas industry. Robots enter the picture in a critical way once full-scale mining begins. First, tractor-like robots ply the ocean floor to loosen the ore-rich material. A robotic collecting machine follows soon after, scooping up the material and combining it with sea water to form a slurry. The slurry is pumped to a barge-like refining operation set up on the surface for processing.

Nautilus has formulated plans to make sure its operations won’t do permanent harm to the ocean-floor environment. This January, the company won a 20-year lease from the government of Papua New Guinea, site of its first planned project, Solwara1, located about 30 kilometers off the equatorial island’s coast, and a bone-crushing 1,600 meters below the surface.

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