SD Mines Awarded $1.25 Million Project to Improve Mine Ventilation

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The South Dakota School of Mines & Technology has been awarded a $1.25 million contract to design more advanced underground ventilation systems in block caving mines. The five-year project from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health seeks to create safer and more comfortable working environments and could also lead to more efficient production for mining companies.

Exploring for deep-seated deposits and finding innovative ways to mine them is one viable solution to the ever-growing need for minerals. Block caving has the potential to rival surface mining both in rate of mineral production and production cost.

The South Dakota School of Mines & Technology has been awarded a $1.25 million contract to design more advanced underground ventilation systems in block caving mines. The five-year project from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) seeks to create safer and more comfortable working environments and could also lead to more efficient production for mining companies.

Block caving is an underground hard rock mining method that involves undermining an ore body and allowing it to progressively collapse under its own weight. It is the underground version of open pit mining.

For the first year, NIOSH has awarded the project a contract for $250,000, renewable annually for five years. Phase 1 of the project aims to develop numerical models to predict geo-mechanical parameters such as caved rock porosity and permeability. The models will also predict ventilation parameters such as gas emission rates from the caved rock; resistance offered by the caved rock to airflow; and adequate supply of fresh air to dilute gases.

Purushotham Tukkaraja, Ph.D., of the Department of Mining Engineering & Management, will lead the research as principal investigator. “With the discovery of near-surface mineral deposits declining, exploring for deep-seated deposits and finding innovative ways to mine them is one viable solution to the ever-growing need for minerals. Block caving is one such innovative way, and it has the potential to rival surface mining both in rate of mineral production and production cost,” said Tukkaraja.

The project seeks to develop a practical mine ventilation design procedure that an operating block caving mine could use to predict gas emission rates and adequate airflows in underground working areas. It will also allow for the simulation of the caving process in an underground metal/nonmetal mine and for the validation of the numerical models through field measurements. Additionally, the project will analyze the ventilation system by incorporating cave resistance values in the network models.

“This kind of research that uses advanced modeling to study an applied problem in mining is the kind of research at which we excel,” said Heather Wilson, president of the university.

SD Mines graduate students will play a key role in the research, as the purpose of the NIOSH grant is to increase expertise in the area of mine ventilation through graduate education in addition to developing technologies that improve mine safety and health.

“Ventilation is the lifeblood of a mine, and the ventilation engineer plays a key role in operating a safe and profitable underground operation. Currently there is a need for qualified ventilation professionals in the mining industry,” said Tukkaraja.

Tukkaraja will be joined by other SD Mines faculty members who will bring expertise in geo-mechanics and computational fluid dynamics to this interdisciplinary project. They include: Kurt Katzenstein, Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of Geology & Geological Engineering; Khosro Shahbazi, Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering; and Lance Roberts, Ph.D., head and professor, Department of Mining Engineering & Management.

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About SDSM&T
Founded in 1885, the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology is a science and engineering research university located in Rapid City, S.D., offering bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. The university enrolls 2,798 students from 45 states and 39 foreign countries, with a student-to-faculty ratio of 14:1. The SD School of Mines placement rate is 98 percent, with an average early-career salary for graduates of $65,600, according to the 2014-2015 PayScale report. Find us online at http://www.sdsmt.edu, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/sdsmt and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sdsmt.

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