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Rock is disaggregated on the seafloor by two large robotic machines that excavate material by a continuous cutting process, not unlike coal or other bulk continuous mining machines on land. The Auxiliary Cutter (AC) is a preparatory machine that deals with rough terrain and creates benches for the other machines to work. It will operate on tracks and has a boom mounted cutting head for flexibility.
The second machine, the Bulk Cutter has higher cutting capacity but will be limited to working on flatter areas and benches created by the AC. Both machines leave cut material in temporary positions on the seafloor for collection by the third machine, the Collecting Machine (CM). The CM, also a large robotic vehicle, will collect the cut material by drawing it in as seawater slurry with internal pumps and pushing it through a flexible pipe to the Riser and Lifting System (RALS).
The RALS comprises a large pump and rigid riser pipe supported from the vessel which delivers the slurry to the surface. The pump is supported on a solid vertical (riser) pipe suspended beneath the support vessel.
On deck of the Production Support Vessel (PSV), the slurry is dewatered. The dewatered solid material is stored temporarily in the PSV’s hull, and then discharged to a transportation vessel moored alongside. Filtered seawater is pumped back to the seafloor through the riser pipes and provides hydraulic power to operate the RALS pump. Discharge of the return water at the seafloor from where it came eliminates mixing of the water column, and minimizes the environmental impact of the operation.