Airship Transport of Minerals – A Vision of the Future

Airship Transport of Minerals – A Vision of the Future

By: Dr. Barry E. Prentice & Dr. Edward Schiller, P.Geol.

Mining development in remote areas has many challenges, but the cost of transportation has to be near the top of the list. Transportation infrastructure is expensive to build, particularly where environmental requirements, native land claims and permafrost soils are involved. The distances are long and maintenance costs are substantial. Once the mineral resource is exhausted, all-weather roads and air strips become stranded assets and may be subject to remediation. It can cost more to decommission roads and return the landscape to nature than the original costs of construction.

What if it were possible to fly base metal concentrates to a rail head? Airplanes are used to fly out diamonds and precious metals, but the volume and value of base metals make airplanes uneconomic. How would the economics of mining base metals in remote places change if the costs of air transport could be halved?

The idea of using a lighter-than-air vehicle for mining in Canada dates back to the 19th century. Joseph de l’Etolle proposed the “Klondike balloon” to revolutionize transport over the snow covered paths of the Yukon”. Whether he ever attempted to build an airship is not recorded, but the logic of using buoyant lift for low cost transport over the native landscape of the north remains the same.

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