The newest project is designed to learn more about mine
seals to help prevent explosions.
The drive up to the Lake Lynn Laboratory is a steep journey
up a hill on a gravel road.
On top sits the laboratory, on the site of a former limestone
This site is being used by the National Institute of
Occupational Safety and Health to conduct experiments on new methods that can
be used in coal mines to improve safety.
Karl Zipf is a senior mining engineer in the fire and
explosions group with NIOSH.
He says the latest research project here relates to how mine
“We’re working in three areas. We’re working on the science
of explosions within coal mines, we’re looking at the engineering of seals and
better ways to design seals to contain explosions, but we’re also looking on
the management of sealed areas in coal mines,” he said.
One focus of Zipf’s
research is looking at a system called a Tube Bundle System that is used in Australia.
It is usually sits outside of the coal mine drawing and
analyzing gas samples.
The system collects data from various parts of the mine on
the amounts of gases present such as methane, and carbon monoxide.
The data is analyzed and displayed on a map.
This allows researchers to study trends on which parts of a
coal mine are experiencing unsafe gas levels.
“That will help us prevent explosions from ever happening in
the first place by preventing the development of potentially hazardous
conditions,” Zipf said.
Zipf and his research team have also constructed a
detonation tube at the laboratory.
It is used to develop a better understanding of the kinds of
explosion pressures that could develop in a coal mine during an accident.
The tube is 240 feet long and 42 inches in diameter.
NIOSH is remotely injecting methane into the tube, mixing it
with oxygen and then detonating it to better understand how explosions happen
“We’ve done approximately 30 or more successful tests with
the detonation tube. Our first phase of our work, we’re trying to understand
the physics of methane air detonation,” Zipf said.
“The next thing we’re going to do is attempt to grow a
detonation from a weak spark.”
Zipf says NIOSH is also working with the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers and the Naval Research Lab to expand its research on explosions in
coal mines and develop designs for mine seals that can resist or contain the