A Norwegian-African cooperative project aims to develop a communications network, which will wirelessly transmit and receive signals within deep-mine operations, where drilling, blasting and excavation take place, to detect combustible gases before they explode.
Scandinavia’s largest independent research organisation, Sintef, and its spin-off company, GasSecure, have been awarded a contract in South Africa; they will collaborate with research and development organisation the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, the University of Pretoria and mining equipment manufacturer Ansys.
“This project will strengthen local partners and improve safety in an industry that is vital to the South African economy,” says Sintef digital project manager Trond Bakken.
The communications system will be used to gather data that can immediately detect a potential explosion-related hazard in a mine, ensuring that mineworkers receive an immediate warning of danger.
“This network of sensors is an innovation of worldwide significance, particularly for the South African mining industry, to prevent fatalities and injuries due to explosions,” says Bakken.
The NKr17-million cooperative project follows a 2012/13 pilot project, which demonstrated that GasSecure gas sensors, based on Sintef research, can detect leakages of explosive hydrocarbon gases, such as methane, on board offshore platforms. It also demonstrated that underground wireless communication is possible, even under challenging underground conditions.
The Norwegian and South African participants are collaborating to develop a sensor that can be used in conjunction with the GasSecure gas sensor, which will measure air flow, temperature and humidity in mine operations.
This sensor will relay information about air flow and dangerous gas leakages at crucial points in the mine to the operator.
All the sensors will be linked to an integrated network, says Bakken, adding that the data from the sensors can also be used as a basis for an on-demand and energy-saving ventilation system at a mine.
“If we also develop on-site ventilation, it can bring additional benefits, such as a reduction in energy consumption, improved profitability for a mine, as well as less stress on the environment.”