Investigation of Coal Dust Remediation using a Surfactant in an Aqueous Solution
In addition to ventilation practices, the application of water via sprays is the most economical and popular means of combating respirable dust in an underground coal mine. Due to a noticeable increase in black lung among coal miners and new dust regulations, surfactants or wetting agents have been used to aid in dust suppression. The surfactant facilitates the wetting process by lowering the surface tension and allowing the hydrophobic coal dust to come into contact with the water.
One of the most straightforward and effective benchtop tests is a simple wetting test. Although there are variations of this type of test, principle and technique remain the same. A known amount of dust was placed on the surface of a solution and the time it takes for all the dust to fall through the interface would be the wetting rate. This investigation examined the specific density of the bulk dust and concentration of a surfactant in solution and their effects on the wetting rate. It was found that both factors were significant in determining the wetting rate. It was seen that the surfactant had a more significant effect on the dust which consisted mostly of coal particle when compared to a dust with a higher non-coal mineral content.
Additionally, full-scale tests were conducted to determine the effect of the surfactant at a constant concentration. During the field implementation, the surfactant was pumped through the mines spray water to the cutter heads of the continuous miner. A large number of uncontrollable variables present during the implementation, made determining the effects difficult, and the resulting impact from the surfactant inconclusive. Further long-term testing would be needed while accounting for all of the identified variables. Significantly higher concentration was however found when using the continuous personal dust monitor as opposed to the older personal dust samples when left in the same environment. Additionally, a very significant drop in dust concentrations was observed when the miner operators were allowed to activate the scrubbers.