March 14, 2014

Mine dust control facility opening March 20

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale is home to a state-of-the-art facility aimed at better controlling dust aerosols in certain coal mines, and officials will celebrate its grand opening this week. 

The Longwall Dust Control Facility is in the Illinois Coal Development Park in Carterville.  Under the direction of Yoginder “Paul” Chugh, professor of mining and mineral resources engineering, the project will test innovative and promising technologies that will help control coal and silica dust in longwall mining operations. 

University officials, along with members of the Illinois Mining Institute Board, will be on hand for an opening event starting at 11:30 a.m., Thursday, March 20, at the Illinois Clean Coal Institute offices in Carterville. The mining institute board also will be holding its regular meeting that day and its members will also tour the facility. 

Dust control in mines is extremely important for the health and safety of miners and also from a production standpoint. Up to 40 tons of coal per minute can be produced in a well-functioning longwall mining operation that can result in a lot of dust. 

Congress is considering lowering the allowable amount of dust in the air in mines, which would in turn put more pressure on mining companies to find innovative methods for controlling dust, Chugh said. 

Longwall coal mining has grown rapidly in Illinois during the last five years. There are five such operating longwall faces in the state now, with another three or four expected to open during the next two to four years, Chugh said. 

“Maintaining productivity of these longwall faces, and safety and health of mine workers requires industry, state and universities to work together,” Chugh said. “This facility is a very good example of cooperation among industry, state, and universities to support our coal industry.” 

Chugh said dust control technologies are difficult and very expensive to test in the field. It costs a mining company up to $70 million to open a longwall mining face and therefore costs to halt production for dust control testing are prohibitive, Chugh said. 

“This facility will allow us to test innovative concepts and help us identify only those that should be considered for implementation in the field,” he said. “Furthermore, this facility will allow us to optimize solutions for each mine based on their specific needs.” 

The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity provided more than $90,000 for the test facility at SIU through the Office of Coal Development and Illinois Clean Coal Institute. The university is providing additional support for its development through faculty time release, Chugh said. The coal industry also provides technical support related to current longwall operations considered in the design of this facility. 

Chugh said the facility would include staff highly experienced in mining. The staff will help develop dust control solutions that are workable in the real world, and therefore embraced by the industry. 

Chugh said SIU mining and mineral resources engineering programs are specifically designed to support the coal industry. Faculty members strive to work closely with the industry to identify issues and develop technology to provide solutions that work in the field.