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WVU research teams receive $500K for mine safety research
May 22, 2018

The Alpha Foundation for the Improvement of Mine Safety and Health has awarded two research teams from West Virginia University nearly $500,000 in funding, WVUNews reported.

The teams will focus on safety issues surrounding methane gas in underground coal mines and ground control related injuries.

Derek Johnson, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering will lead one team that will look at cost-effective ways to measure methane in longwall coal mining operations. The hope is to prevent the most feared hazards in underground coal mines: Methane and dust explosions. Joining Johnson on the team are Nigel Clark, George B. Berry, chair of Engineering and professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, Yi Luo, associate professor of mining engineering and Mark Sindelar, research assistant professor of mining engineering.

Their proposed methane watchdog system will deploy a low-cost, multi-nodal methane measurement network. It will monitor methane concentrations and velocity continuously along the full length of the longwall face.

The system will measure, record and report on discrete methane concentrations in nearly real time, along the front and rear ends of the canopy of the supports or shields.

The team will then combine the methane measurements with shearer location and ventilation flow rates along the wall face to estimate the methane liberation rates from the coal seam ahead of the shearer and from longwall gob.

“The ability to accurately collect, record and analyze methane concentrations at multiple locations will immediately improve mine safety and will ultimately lead to better models and design methods to prevent methane and dust explosions,” Johnson said.

The second team, led by Ihsan Berk Tulu, assistant professor of mining engineering, will look at ways to reduce ground control-related injuries and fatalities in the mining industry. The goal is to develop a practical, mechanics-based approach to pillar design.

The research team, which includes Brijes Mishra, associate professor of mining engineering and graduate research assistant Deniz Tuncay, will work to develop a geology-based laminated overburden model.

Tulu noted that this new mechanistic mode will be an important step toward reducing the risk factors for the underground mine workers by further understanding the role of the overburden mechanics in pillar design, thereby improving mine stability.

Ground control-related incidents are still one of the leading injury and fatality reason in underground coal mines. According to statistics from the Mine Safety and Health Administration, there were 35,228 underground coal mine workers in 2015 working either in a longwall or retreat-room-and-pillar mine. Between 2011 and 2015, there were 1,037 nonfatal lost-time ground control-related injuries and from 2014 to 2017, 20 percent of the all the fatalities were ground control related.

The Alpha Foundation for the Improvement of Mine Safety and Health is a private foundation with the mission to improve mine safety and health through funding research and development projects at qualified academic institutions and other not-for-profit organizations.