mining mine shaft

Wireless sensors installed in South African mines to prevent explosions

A wireless, gas detecting sensor network is being trialled in South African mines as a way to prevent explosions before they happen.

Scandinavian research organisation SINTEF have developed an unusual communications network that wirelessly transmits and receives signals within deep mine workings in which drilling blasting and excavation are taking place.

Mines are extremely inhospitable environments, with high levels of humidity, dirt and dust, and high temperatures.

“In the first instance, the system will be used to gather data that can immediately detect a potential explosion hazard in the mine, enabling mine-workers to rapidly receive a warning of danger,” said SINTEF’s Trond Bakken.

“The next objective will be to use the data as a basis for on-demand, and thus energy-saving, ventilation in the mine. Quite simply, we want to develop an integrated on-demand ventilation system for mining operations.”

If their efforts are successful, the members of the project will also market their results in other countries that operate manned mines.

The technology is currently being tested at an operational mine and follows in the wake of a pilot project that was carried out in 2012 – 2013.

This system has already been demonstrated to reliably detect leakages of explosive hydrocarbon gases such as methane on board offshore platforms.

The pilot project found that the sensor can also operate in mine workings, a capability that will improve safety for workers in the mining industry.

It also demonstrated that underground wireless communication is possible even under the challenging conditions that prevail in the mining industry.

Another sensor is also being worked on that will measure air flow, temperature and humidity in mine workings.

Information regarding air flow in mines at crucial points down a mine can tell the operator whether or not leakages of explosive gas are dangerous. Location information of this sort will reduce the number of gas sensors needed.

The project will also develop the communication system that will link all the sensors into an integrated network.

Bakken said the project aims to “strengthen local partners and improve safety in an industry that is vital to the South African economy.

“We also hope that we will succeed in meeting our long-term aim of developing an on-demand ventilation system. If we do, this will bring additional benefits: improved profitability in South Africa’s mining industry, a reduction in energy consumption, and in consequence, less stress on the environment.”

In 2015 E&T looked at how mining companies are using Internet of Things devices to increase their productivity amid decline output from the industry over the last few years. 

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