Global Road Technology has pioneered a dust suppression chemistry that is effective against coal dust in longwall and continuous miner operations.
The mining industry’s rapid transition towards automation and increased production is challenging the sector’s ability to keep people safe as they introduce new ways of working.
New technologies and equipment are being rolled out in an accelerated manner, and even though they are introduced to create better productivity, the safety processes to support them potentially lag behind.
Increasingly bigger equipment operating at mine sites, for example, presents a challenge for operators to keep their dust exposure to a minimum.
Longwall mining is another significant source of dust. Even though this mining method distances workers from the hazardous underground environment, it also produces a lot of dust that hangs in the air.
This increasingly exposes workers who enter the area for maintenance and other purposes to dust.
“The most dangerous types of dust are the ones you can’t see with your eyes. They’re the ones that hang in the air and travel a long way up the tunnels to where humans are,” Global Road Technology (GRT) general manager Daniel Grundy tells Safe to Work.
“The other machinery that’s being used that always have a team of people around them are continuous miners. They cannot be fully automated and are an enormous source of dust.
“What this means is you’ve got high-speed shearing of materials that generates dust very, very quickly. We’re talking about high-velocity airborne dust, not just the particles that are sitting on the road and getting blown by the passing of vehicles.”
With the prominence of respirable dust in an underground mining environment, human workers are exposed to risks of contracting respiratory diseases such as coal miners’ pneumoconiosis (or black lung) and silicosis, where the speed of death is quicker.
In response to the re-emergence of black lung in coal mining and silicosis in multiple industries, GRT conducted extensive research and development into the concern.
The company partnered with Australia’s leading universities to develop a dust suppression product and dosing system that are suitable to a coal mining environment.
It’s a concentrated additive that’s mixed with water and injected into existing spray systems for dust suppression purposes.
“We took it upon ourselves to find and develop a solution here in Australia for Australian problems,” Grundy says.
“The issue with coal and water is that they don’t interact. Coal hates water – it’s very hydrophobic. So when you spray all this water, it will only push the dust away, but not capture the particles.”
Grundy says the high surface tension and the surface charge of water are the reason for this reaction.
Having the same surface charge across water and coal also means that their interaction can be likened to two positive magnets that repel each other when put together.
GRT has developed GRT: Activate UG to rapidly reduce the surface tension and alter the surface charge of water, creating super-activated water that saturates the coal face, intercepts and coats airborne particles and immobilises fugitive dust.
“What we can’t do is change the nature of the coal, but what we can do is change the water. So suddenly you’ve got a positive and negative magnet that attracts each other,” Grundy says.
“We verified our test results with those of an independent university testing, which showed that water that had been dosed with GRT: Activate UG in it was able to capture coal dust by more than 12 times compared with pure water.
“It was tested in live environments and proven to significantly reduce the dust generated in coal mining operations.”
Its effectiveness extends to above ground operations, including in a coal handling and processing plant where there is a huge amount of dust generated at the crushing, conveying and transfer points.
The Queensland Government is also pushing for mining companies to use something other than water to control dust, according to Grundy.
“Water simply has the wrong chemistry to suppress coal dust. It’s understood that water is not very effective, but this is still the standard practice today,” he says.
GRT recognises the importance of not creating a new hazard when trying to fix one.
The company has produced GRT: Activate UG from organic and plant-based chemistries out of Australia’s backyard, setting itself apart from others that are composed of cleaning chemistries.
This makes GRT: Activate UG inherently safe for human exposure every day.
“GRT is a dust control specialist company. We don’t sell lubricants for machines, we don’t sell oil, or truck parts. Dust control is what we do all day, every day,” Grundy says.
“We provide engineered solutions using chartered engineers that provide fit-for-purpose dust suppression solutions to the mining industry. Miners’ health and safety are of the utmost importance to our team.”
This article also appears in the Nov-Dec issue of Safe to Work.