CEO.ca – Nautilus Minerals (NUS-T) enters a critical phase in its bid to become a seafloor metals miner. Earlier today Nautilus noted it would start testing a number of its seafloor mining tools in early 2016.
The key thing to realize here is that these tools have never been used before. Indeed, this kind of seafloor mining has never been done.
That’s always been one of the main attractions in Nautilus as a company and investment. It’s on the cutting edge of both identifying and delineating seafloor metal deposits (e.g. around active smokers) and designing, with contractors, the right tools to mine them.
Of course that comes with perils – here, proving that the tools can work.
What to watch for?
Nautilus isn’t totally re-inventing the wheel. Many of the tools – from seafloor cutters, to feed pumping systems, to ship-based processing facilities – are modelled around pre-existing technologies borrowed from the oil and gas industry.
So not everything has been designed from scratch.
That said, Nautilus plans are not a relatively simple matter of just taking a super vacuum to the seafloor, as say mining diamond-bearing sediments underwater in South Africa. The feat here involves tracked cutters exploiting harder mineralization on the seafloor and pumping the resulting feed to surface, among other things.
For such tools Nautilus could not go to “Canadian Miner” on a Saturday morning and pull ready-to-use equipment off the shelf.
So expect the testing to require Nautilus to tweak and redesign its tools.
To Nautilus Minerals President and CEO Michael Johnston one of the chief questions involves engineering assumptions on matters of power. How much will they need to operate machines underwater where the pressure of water comes to bear on components?
“These first machines will probably be the worst ones ever built,” Johnston told me a year ago.
The current thinking is that the cutting tools may be overbuilt, as the cutting power they need was modelled on the hardness of continuous core from the company’s Solwara I deposit. In reality, Nautilus will likely encounter more busted-up mineralization when, or if, it actually mines the stuff.
But who knows exactly.
So Nautilus enters the proof-of-concept phase. It will have the attention of miners and smelters. They will be watching to see how well Nautilus’s vision meets reality.
The first deposit it plans to target is called Solwara I, off the coast of Papua New Guinea, and is estimated to contain: 1mt @ 7.2% copper, 5.0 g/t gold, 23 g/t silver, 0.4 % zinc, indicated; and 1.5mt @ 8.1 % Cu, 6.4 g/t Au, 34 g/t Ag, 0.9% Zn, inferred. The deposit is a massive sulphide deposit.Papua New Guinea has 15% interest in the project.
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