A detailed justification for the selection of a novel mine tracer gas and development of protocols for GC-ECD analysis of SPME sampling in static and turbulent conditions for assessment of underground mine ventilation systems

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Virginia Tech

Tracer gas surveys are a powerful means of assessing air quantity in underground mine ventilation circuits.  The execution of a tracer gas style ventilation survey allows for the direct measurement of air quantity in locations where this information is otherwise unattainable.  Such instances include inaccessible regions of the mine or locations of irregular flow.  However, this method of completing a mine ventilation survey is an underused tool in the industry.  This is largely due to the amount of training required to analyze survey results. As well, the survey is relatively slow because of the time required to perform analysis of results and the time required to allow for the total elution of tracer compounds from the ventilation circuit before subsequent tracer releases can be made.  These limitations can be mitigated with the development of a protocol for a novel tracer gas which can be readily implemented with existing technology.  Enhanced tracer gas techniques will significantly improve the flexibility of ventilation surveys.  The most powerful means to improve tracer gas techniques applied to mine ventilation surveys is to alter existing protocols into a method that can be readily applied where tracer surveys already take place.

One effective method of enhancing existing tracer gas survey protocols is to simply add a second tracer gas that can be detected on a gas chromatograph -- electron capture detector (GC-ECD) using the same method as with the existing industry standard tracer, sulfur hexafluoride (SF6).  Novel tracer gases that have been successfully implemented in the past called for complex analysis methods requiring special equipment, or were designed for inactive workings.  Experimentation with perfluoromethylcyclohexane (PMCH) and SF6 allowed for ideal chromatographic results.  PMCH is a favorable selection for a novel tracer to work in tandem with SF6 due to its chemical stability, similar physical properties and detection limits to SF6, and its ability to be applied and integrated into an existing system.  Additionally, PMCH has been successfully utilized in other large-scale tracer gas studies.

Introduction of a novel tracer gas will make great strides in improving the versatility of underground tracer gas ventilation surveys, but further improvement to the tracer gas technique can be made in simplifying individual steps.  One such step which would benefit from improvement is in sampling.  Solid phase microextraction (SPME) is a sampling method that is designed for rapid sampling at low concentrations which provides precise results with minimal training.  A SPME extracting phase ideal for trace analysis of mine gases was selected and a GC-ECD protocol was established.  The protocol for fiber selection and method optimization when performing trace analysis with SPME is described in detail in this thesis.  Furthermore, the impact of sampling with SPME under varying turbulent conditions is explored, and the ability of SPME to sample multiple trace analytes simultaneously is observed.

tracer gas, mine ventilation, gas chromatography, perfluoromethylcyclohexane, solid phase microextraction