Engineering experts sell new system to control coal dust

By Austin Miller

In a coal mine, miners work with clouds of black soot hanging over their heads and entering their lungs.

Minerals Development Technologies Inc., a local company owned partially by SIU professors Yoginder Chugh and Harrold Gurley, have created a new system to reduce the amount of breathable dust in coal mines.

Chugh, professor of mining and mineral resources engineering, said his group has been researching ways to control dust for six years. He said mine companies have been spraying water to wet the dust and take it out of the air, but those methods have no scientific foundation.

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Coal particles are thrown into the air during mining, and Chugh said coal dust gets into the lungs of miners, causing miner’s silicosis. Miner’s silicosis is an incurable disease that causing swelling of the lungs, according to American Lung Association’s website.

“We have been committed to the health and safety of miners for the last 30 years that I have been working here,” Chugh said. “We feel very, very happy that we are finally able to get some of our ideas into the marketplace.”

Chugh said the spraying system they have developed takes the mineral composition of coal and airflow of the mines into account to create a more scientifically accurate spraying system.

Gurley, professor of mining and mineral resources engineering, said seven to 11 spray blocks–which house the nozzles–are mounted on the machines, called continuous miners, that mine coal.

The sprayed water mixes with the mined coal, but the amount of water used is not large enough to affect the coal, Chugh said. The continuous miners gather 14 to 16 tons of coal per minute, while the water system uses 40 gallons of water per minute.

“We are trying our very best to make sure that not even one drop of water is wasted,” he said. “The advantage being it can control dust all the way until it goes to the surface.”

MDT has to personally engineer each system to fit the conditions of different mines, said Chugh. The designing and building process takes nearly two months.

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“For this spray system, it’s pretty much unique to each coal mine because each coal mine is different,” Gurley said.

More than 25 machines in Illinois are using the spraying system designed by MDT. One of the plants using the technology is Knight Hawk Coal Company in Percy.

Tom Hasenstab, engineer at Knight Hawk Coal, said the spraying system has worked as well as he expected.

“It has helped by increasing the amount of dust collected by our scrubber system, which in turn decreases the amount of respirable dust our miners are exposed to,” Hasenstab said. “This leads to a healthier atmosphere underground, and improved compliance with the recently tightened federal regulations.”

Gurley and Chugh both said they expect increases in mine production using the system.

“If we can improve the environment for the miners to work under, then our production rate and productivity can go up,” Chugh said.

Chugh said the group secured funding from the university to research ways to control dust and now that there is a working product, the university receives a royalty from sales of the sprayer.

He said the price of the system fluctuates; depending on how much engineering has to be done to the mining equipment. He said the invention can cost companies anywhere from $12,000 to $20,000.

MDT is researching how to apply their system to other mining devices.

Austin Miller can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @AMiller_DE.

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