Historic Ecton Copper Mine in Staffordshire Receives EU Research Project Funding

Robots are set to delve the hidden depths of flooded mines by Niki Adlam-Stiles.

Ecton Mine Educational Trust (EMET) has become a consortium member for the €5M (£3.5M) UNEXMIN project for underwater exploration of flooded mines using submersible remote-controlled robots, miniaturised and adapted from deep sea technology. It will enable a full survey of the submerged workings, to gain geological and archaeological information.

Ecton is an old Staffordshire copper mine and was one of the world’s leading producers in the 18th century, with some 10% of world copper output at that time. The mine was operated to a depth of more than 1,000ft (330m or the height of the Empire State Building) below the River Manifold, but became uneconomic and in the 1850s all production from the deeper workings ceased and it was allowed to flood. During the 1960s divers explored the submerged levels but, following loss of life, no further attempts were made.

Today the study centre has about 1,500 visitors a year and when they go into the mine they access it from the side of the hill, well above the level of the River Manifold. The workings extend a further 400ft above the river up to the Engine House which has been recently restored.

The 4-year project with 13 consortium members from 7 EU countries has just received the go-ahead from the European Commission and will enable new technology to develop potential strategies to re-work some of Europe’s currently abandoned mines many of which may still contain critical raw materials vital for the UK and Europe’s economy.

It starts with a meeting in February 2016 at Miskolc University, Hungary, who are coordinating the project. This is followed by pilot deployments at mines in Finland, Portugal and Slovenia in progressively more challenging conditions concluding with a full-scale study at Ecton in early 2018.

The robots will be developed by a team headed by Tampere University of Technology, Finland and INESC (Institute for Systems and Computer Engineering of Porto), Portugal, with instrumentation contributed by a team to be led by the University of Miskolc, Hungary. Technology for autonomous operation will be contributed by the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid. Post-processing and data analysis systems will be developed by a team led by Resources Computing International Ltd (UK) and the University of Miskolc, while Tampere University of Technology will produce fly-through (or swim-through?) videos from the survey data. The University of Miskolc will provide overall project coordination.

A full list of the participants is:

1 University of Miskolc (UM), Hungary2 Geological Survey of Slovenia (GeoZS), Slovenia
3 Tampere University of Technology, Department of Mechanical, Engineering and Industrial Systems (TUT), Finland
4 Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Centre for Automation and Robotics (UPM-CSIC), Spain
5 La Palma Research S.L. (LPRC), Spain
6 Institute for Systems and Computer Engineering of Porto (INESC), Portugal
7 Resources Computing International Ltd (RCI), UK
8 Geoplano (GEOP), Portugal
9 Ecton Mine Educational Trust (EMET), UK
10 European Federation of Geologists (EFG), France
11 Geo-montan (GEOM), Hungary
12 Empresa de Desenvolvimento Mineiro (EDM), Portugal
13 Idrija Mercury Heritage Management Centre (CUDHgI), Slovenia

See http://www.unexmin.eu for additional details.