Zeppelin airships to transport equipment, ore at project in Siberia

March 11, 2014

Amur Minerals Corp. (AMC) is exploring a novel approach to overcome the snow-clogged roads and other harsh conditions at its proposed nickel/copper project in Siberia — the use of zeppelin aircraft.

AMC’s Kun-Maine is in a remote, fareast region of Russia and would need a 320 km (200 mile) road built at a cost of about $140 million. The airships from Worldwide Aeros Corp. to carry loads of as much as 250 t (275 st), the company said in a statement after signing a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. manufacturer. The aircraft will also be used to transport production from the mine, Bloomberg reported.

The airships can be used on rough terrain because they take off and land vertically and can travel as fast as 160 km/h (100 mph).

Amur is seeking a mining license from Russian authorities to start construction at its Kun-Manie project, which holds resources of 650 kt (717,000 st) of nickel and 178 kt (196,000 st) of copper. It may start using the air vehicles two years after reaching an accord with the supplier, it said.

Zeppelin manufacturers need mining contracts to revive their business, 77 years after the U.S. Hindenburg airship crash ended most buyer interest for decades. With better designs and a buoyant gas that can’t ignite, makers such as Aeros and Hybrid Air Vehicles Ltd. are hammering out their first sales deals with the mining industry to complement truck and rail transport.

Mining companies in Siberia, whose natural-resource wealth includes coal, iron ore and petroleum as well as copper and nickel, have to contend with temperatures of as low as minus 60° C (minus 76° F). The severity of the winter can hamper road transport, prompting producers to look for cost-effective alternatives.

Airship fuel costs are about a third of those for a cargo plane, Aeros Chief Executive Officer Igor Pasternak said last year. He described Aeros’ plans to build 152-m (500-ft) airships with a zeppelin-like rigid structure that can carry loads as heavy as 250 t (275 st).

“This partnership in the innovative use of developing heavy-lift transport could substantially reduce our anticipated capital expenditure to develop Kun-Manie and shorten the upfront construction period,” Robin Young, CEO of London-based Amur, said in a statement.


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