The risk of fires and explosions is a major safety concern in underground coal mines, with catastrophic consequences if robust monitoring and control measures are not in place to deal with this complex hazard.
Inherent fire hazards and risk
Due to the mix of gas, energy and oxygen present in underground coal mines, the risk of fire and explosion always remains a significant safety concern.
To minimise the risk of explosion, it is critical to reduce gas-concentration levels in working areas.
To minimise the risk of fires in goaf areas (loose material where the coal has been removed), it is critical to reduce oxygen levels.
This complex issue depends on several widely varying mining parameters, but continually improving our understanding of the science is essential to develop control technologies and proactive strategies to help prevent fires and explosions in coal mines, improving safety for workers.
Focused research in the field and in the lab
We have pursued an extensive research program for many years to reduce the risk of fires and explosions in underground coal mines.
Our research has integrated extensive field studies with computational fluid dynamics (CFD) models to develop strategies to prevent and control spontaneous combustion and fires in goaf areas.
The mine fires control research program includes ongoing work on:
- field studies for detailed monitoring of goaf-gas distribution
- computational fluid dynamics (CFD) modelling studies
- development of optimum inertisation strategies for prevention and control of spontaneous combustion, explosions and fires in coal mines, and
- detailed field investigations and demonstration studies in underground coal mines to evaluate the effectiveness of various proactive strategies.
Applied knowledge in managing coal mine fire risk
Our research has enabled a fundamental understanding of the air and gas flow behaviour in goaf areas and provided a detailed understanding of the effects of various geological, ventilation, operational and inertisation design parameters on goaf gas distribution.
Through this we have gained a better understanding of gas-flow behaviour in goaf areas and of various control technologies and strategies.
The knowledge has been used successfully deployed to develop and implement advanced technologies and strategies for prevention and control of fires in coal mines.
We are focused on transferring these newly developed technologies to industry as a priority.
Field studies at a number of underground coal mines have shown that the proactive strategies were successful.
Our research developments represent a significant advancement in the highly complex and difficult field of fire prevention and control in coal mines.
Our advice and expertise is now regularly sought by mining companies for managing real-time incidents which have the potential to cause fires or explosions, helping mine operators successfully control these emergencies.
Many of these critical projects are collaborations with and are funded by the Australian Coal Industry Research Program (ACARP) and individual mining companies.