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WVU receives grants to further develop mine safety research
November 13, 2018

West Virginia University’s ongoing research into mine safety, both in technology and physical training, has gotten a boast via grant funding from the government and a private foundation.

Recently, the Alpha Foundation for the Improvement of Mine Safety and Health awarded funds to WVU Associate Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering V’yacheslav “Slava” Akkerman.

“Historically and nowadays, the coal mining industry has one of the highest fatality and injury rates among industries dealing with flammable gases, combustible dust and other explosive materials,” he explained. “One of the major disasters leading to deaths and injuries in coal mines are unexpected methane explosions, oftentimes followed by full-scale fires.”

To address this, Akkerman collaborated with Ali Rangwala, professor of fire protection engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, to develop the develop the Dust and Gas Explosion Model (G-DEM) which is a joint analytical and computational platform quantifying mining fire hazards. These include probability of spontaneous ignition, the evolution of a flame front and the likelihood of a deflagration-to-detonation transition in the presence of combustible dust.

“The analytical part is a predictive, quantitative scenario describing the emergence and evolution of a burning accident. In particular, it prescribes the timing and locations of the main stages of the coal mine fire,” Akkerman said.

“The primary computational platform is a robust numerical code solving for the basic hydrodynamic and combustion equations.”

In the end, Akkerman said that despite the success of the D-GEM so far, it still needs further development to go from a theoretical model to practicality. However, the grant from the Alpha Foundation will allow the research team to pursue this goal with further experiments and simulations at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Akkerman said that the D-GEM could have applications beyond underground coal mining, such as shale gas utilization and potentially the direction of shale oil, since they all entail combustion relating to gas.

Joshua Brady, associate director of mining extension, and Eduardo Sosa, research associate professor in mechanical and aerospace engineering, were awarded a grant of more than $52,000 from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration.

“Miners may be at the frontline of an emergency involving fire, so they should know how to react as first responders and provide the first attempt to extinguish it,” Sosa said.

The money will be used to provide hands-on, realistic training on how to handle an explosion or fire underground at the Academy for Mine Training and Energy Technologies in western Monongalia County.

Brady said he anticipates training more than 600 people throughout the course of a year, with trainees recruited from small and large mines operating throughout the state.

The MSHA grant comes as part of the Brookwood-Sago grant program, it was designed to promote mine safety while honoring the 25 miners who died in 2001 at the Jim Walter Resources No. 5 mine in Brookwood, Alabama, and the Sago Mine in Buckhannon in 2006.

WVU is only one of four nationwide institutes to receive this funding.