Longwall mining making a comeback in India

9th June 2015 By: Ajoy K Das - Creamer Media Correspondent

KOLKATA (miningweekly.com) - Given compulsions to increase coal production from underground mines, longwall mining technology is seemingly making a comeback in India.

The country’s largest coal miner Coal India Limited (CIL) and second largest producer Singareni Collieries Company Limited (SCCL) have begun scouting for appropriate longwall mining equipment and technology from Germany, Poland, Russia and China, according to a Coal Ministry official.

Indian miners’ moves to get longwall mining back on the rails were precipitated by the visit of a German delegation comprising 15 mining equipment manufacturers, last month.

The German delegation visited a few of the operating mines under SCCL and apart from offering state-of-the-art longwall mining equipment, the delegation representatives expressed a willingness to customise equipment and processes, factoring in the specific requirements of each of the mines, and even to set up training facilities on site.

The delegation included representatives of German mining equipment companies such as Siemag Techberg, DMT, SMT Scharf and Kleeman.

Last month, senior management officials from US-based Caterpillar also held discussions with SCCL, offering longwall mining equipment. Caterpillar officials were focusing on appropriate longwall mining equipment to increase production at SCCL’s newly operationalised Adriyala underground mines, the official said.

CIL had also taken a decision to ramp up mechanisation of its underground mines through the adoption of continuous mining process, and the installation of longwall in select sites and man riding systems, and was looking for global suppliers for such technology and equipment, he added.

The rush to revive longwall mining at Indian underground coal mines stems was meant to counter falling production and productivity.

Coal production from CIL’s underground mines had fallen to 36-million tonnes a year from levels of around 70-million tonnes a year over the past 40 years.

According to the Ministry official, suitable reserves for opencast mining were fast depleting and future demand, targeting coal production of one-billion tonnes a year, could only be met through bulk production underground technologies. At present most of the underground mines were operating at depths of 350 m and the adoption of newer technology would enable mining to extend to 600 m.

But India’s record for installation and operations of longwall technology had been dismal.

One of the most common reasons for slow progress in the adoption of longwall mining had been restricting its use to blocks left over by the bord-and-pillar mining method, and the longwall mining process co-existing with manual and semi-automated processes, resulting in management deficiencies.

The use of longwall came under a cloud in India following the collapse of heavy-duty longwall installations at Churcha West mines in 1989 and Kottadih in 1997.