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Development of an Underground Automated Thin-Seam Coal Mining Method
Holman, Darren Wayne
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It is predicted that coal mining in Southwest Virginia, and the economic stability that it brings to the area, will continue to decline over the next decade unless an environmentally sound, and economically viable means can be found to extract seams of high quality coal in the thickness range of 14 to 28 inches. Research into autonomous machine guidance, coupled with developments of thin-seam mining equipment, offer new opportunities for devising mining layouts suitable for extracting these thin seams in a cost effective manner. These layouts must involve well-planned transportation and ventilation routes that will allow safe conditions for personnel. This implies that the mining face, where coal is extracted, will be completely automated, ensuring the safety of the workers. This thesis presents a brief overview of current technologies utilized for underground coal mining in the United States. This is followed by a review of developments in highwall mining that are potentially applicable in underground mining of thin seams. Some past attempts at thin seam mining are discussed, and evaluated for their short comings. An overview of the more recent advances in the guidance systems for use in autonomous mining machines is also presented. The new advances that several manufacturers are developing to address the integration of mining and continuous haulage systems are also investigated. That background is employed in devising a conceptual mining system for the underground mining of coal seams in the 14 to 28 inch range of thickness. This thesis proves that adapting new technologies and concepts from existing ones can lead to meaningful advances in the field of natural resources recovery. This system utilizes a newly designed panel layout that takes into account haulage, supplying, ventilation, equipment, and machine guidance. This system is proposed to show that new ways can be developed to take advantage of the reserves in the 14 to 28 inch range of thickness. This shows that new technology and design innovation can turn currently uneconomic resources, into economic reserves. This kind of innovation is what is needed to keep this region of Southwest Virginia economically viable. This system is a huge step in the direction that thin-seam research needs to take. Most of the equipment suggested for this proposed system is already available.
- Masters Theses