February 04, 2015

Researchers earn mining industry safety award

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Researchers in Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s College of Engineering received a safety award from a leading industry society. 

The Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration awarded the research team of Yoginder “Paul” Chugh, Harrold Gurley and John Pulliam its Health and Safety Research and Educational Excellence Award for developing and commercializing improved dust control systems for a common piece of underground mining equipment. 

Chugh, a professor in the Department of Mining and Mineral Resources Engineering, along with Gurley and Pulliam, researchers in that department, developed the new technology for controlling dust in underground mining operations. The technology, which utilizes strategically placed, custom-engineered water spray nozzle arrays to knock and pull coal dust out of the air, received a patent in 2014. The university also awarded a sole source licensing agreement to Minerals Development Technologies Inc., a local startup company, of which Chugh is part owner. The company will pay the university a royalty based on each dust control system it sells to mining companies anywhere in the United States. 

The safety award recognizes the trio’s work on behalf of controlling dust in underground coal mines using new approaches. Dust is the miner’s enemy in a mine. Particles too small to see work their way into the respiratory system, where they can accumulate and cause health problems such as pneumoconiosis or black lung in later years. Larger particles obscure visibility while others hang in the air and coat surfaces, presenting an explosion hazard. 

Large continuous mining machines use a rotating cutting drum studded with tooth-like bits to rip coal loose from the coal seams before scooping it into a conveyer system. The cutting process and the falling, tumbling coal create continuous clouds of dust that obscure the machine operator’s sight and cause health and safety risks. 

Water spray has been used for some time to control dust in mines, but its application was more haphazard than the engineered system Chugh’s team has designed. Wetting the dust makes it heavier and takes it out of the air. This happens at a very small scale, with tiny droplets of water colliding with tiny dust particles. Often, however, the dust and water fail to come into contact, or the water fails to adhere to the dust particle. 

The Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration is a professional organization with more than 15,000 members serving in all sectors of the minerals industry in more than 85 countries. Members include engineers, geologists, metallurgists, educators, students and researchers. The society strives to advance the worldwide minerals community through sharing information and developing professional skills and research. Its roots date back to 1871.