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The Warsaw Voice » The Polish Science Voice » February 23, 2012
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Keeping Tabs on Blast Risk
February 23, 2012   
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The Barbara Experimental Coal Mine near the southern city of Katowice is a major Polish research-and-development center that works on blast prevention, examines hazards related to gas and dust in mines, and approves and certifies mining equipment.

The mine has a testing area on the ground level and an experimental area under the ground where tests and experiments are also conducted for research centers abroad. The mine was transformed into an experimental facility in 1926 and since 1945 it has been part of the Central Mining Institute (GIG) in Katowice.

The mine has drifts on two levels enabling the study of different phenomena in real-life conditions. Researchers at the Barbara mine study threats resulting from the presence of methane and particulates, including those generated by industries other than mining. They also test explosives and the safety of spark-proof devices. The mine’s experimental adit is used for controlled coal dust explosions, methane combustion and tests of explosive limits in mines. The Barbara mine has a system to determine explosive limits for industrial dust other than coal dust.

Fields of research pursued at the Barbara mine also include the design of new blasting materials and refinement of existing ones. Scientists at the mine assess risks related to rock blasting, prepare expert evaluations of blasting materials and equipment, and issue certificates for those. They conduct approval tests of safety equipment and systems and safeguard systems to prevent explosions. The mine also works to constantly improve methods for assessing the risk of industrial disasters.

In 2010, scientists from the Central Mining Institute used the Barbara Experimental Coal Mine as the site of the first underground coal gasification test in Poland. Preceded by two years of tests in a ground-based reactor, the experiment was carried out in a specially built underground gasification facility. The primary objective was to check the efficiency of underground coal gasification and obtain hydrogen in the process. The experiment was part of an international project called Hydrogen-Oriented Underground Coal Gasification for Europe (HUGE). The project aimed to develop an underground coal gasification method to produce gas rich in hydrogen and free from carbon dioxide (CO2). It was coordinated by the Central Mining Institute.

The Barbara Experimental Coal Mine has been recently undergoing enlargement with 493 meters of new drifts built for experiments and research on new coal technology. Some of the drifts have already been completed. The new drifts are located 310 meters under the ground. The enlargement project is part of the construction of a Center for Clean Coal Technology in Silesia. Once enlarged, the mine will gain new opportunities to conduct underground experiments, especially those related to coal gasification.
Ewa Dereń

Krzysztof Cybulski, Ph.D., director of the Barbara Experimental Coal Mine
The ongoing expansion of the mine will enable far more extensive research on underground coal gasification than we have been able to pursue so far. I also believe it will pave the way for many other projects which we do not even know of at present, just as we do not realize all the new opportunities that the Center for Clean Coal Technology (CCTW), which is still under development, will present. For the time being, we are drilling new drifts. Once they are completed, the drifts will be fitted with all the necessary equipment and machinery. As part of the Center for Clean Coal Technology project, we have also been modernizing several buildings on the ground in order to adapt them for a new lab that will house high-end research equipment.

The past several years have been a highly successful time for the Barbara mine. To begin with, at the end of 2010 the mine and the Central Mining Institute, of which we are part, were granted the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) certificate, which authorizes us to issue certificates under the IEC Ex system for devices used in explosive atmospheres. We are the first and only center in Poland with This is a highly prestigious achievement for both the mine and the Central Mining Institute, as well as a very convenient turn of events for Polish producers of devices used in zones with high explosion risk. IEC Ex certificates are recognized worldwide and so Polish producers of mining equipment, whose products have been making their mark on foreign markets, no longer need to have their products tested abroad, in Britain or Germany, for example.

Until recently, the Barbara mine was an EU-notified body, which meant that the findings of our research and certificates we issued were only recognized across the EU. However, Poland’s largest producers of mining equipment have been marketing their products around the world and so they need the IEC Ex certificate, which is recognized in important mining countries such as Australia, China, Russia and South Africa. We thus applied for authorization to issue such certificates, which was by no means easy to achieve and so the success of our efforts makes us very happy.

The other major achievement for the mine was the first successful underground coal gasification process which we conducted in 2010 as part of the HUGE project. The results of the experiment were so promising that now that the project has been completed, we have applied for funding for another project, called HUGE 2. Conducted between 2011 and 2013, it will be financed, like HUGE, under the 7th Framework Program of the EU as part of the Research Fund for Coal and Steel. Our project has been approved; it will be carried out by a consortium coordinated by the Central Mining Institute.

I should also mention that the mine has been conducting extensive research on explosive limits for dust produced by industry. Along with coal dust, we study all other kinds of organic dust, including coffee, flour, sugar, tobacco and materials used to produce medicines, all of which can be very dangerous in certain conditions. We conduct research and expert evaluations for all kinds of customers, some of them totally unrelated to the mining industry.
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