In 2015, the United States generated about four trillion kilowatt hours of electricity, with 33 percent coming from the use of coal. While coal mining as an industry is important not only in the U.S. but abroad, it remains a challenging one, with roof falls accounting for more than 450 injuries over the past three years.
While significant efforts by the Mine Safety and Health Administration and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health have resulted in decreased fatalities due to roof falls, the fundamental mechanisms behind these unpredictable falls are still unknown. A team of researchers from West Virginia University, with support of a $1.2 million grant from NIOSH, are conducting a study to determine the fundamental mechanisms behind these untimely falls.
While extensive research has been done to mitigate the external factors that cause rocks to fail, very little is known on where the failure initiates and how it propagates into a large failure, said Brijes Mishra, associate professor of mining engineering. Along with Edward Sabolsky, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at WVU, Mishra will investigate rock at the micro-level.
“The objective of this project is to investigate the roof failure in coalmines using extensive laboratory tests, field visits and numerical models,” said Mishra. “Dr. Sabolsky has extensive experience in microscopy and will guide us in our understanding of rock behavior through electron microscopy and x-ray diffraction for phase analysis. This will help us to characterize rock at the micro-level, which will also help us to understand how it transforms into macro-level.”
The research project, Mishra said, will also train graduate students to perform advanced research in ground control engineering. The project will also involve undergraduate students to train them for future research in rock engineering.
Mishra has conducted extensive research in the area of rock mechanics, spanning from laboratory testing to pillar stability analysis for deep coalmines. He created a triaxial laboratory for testing rocks at high pressure and temperature at WVU, which includes triaxial creep testing equipment for investigating long-term behavior of the rock.
Sabolsky has spent a large portion of his career researching advanced ceramic processing and materials for energy-related applications. He leads the Multi-functional and Energy Ceramics Group at WVU as well as the Statler College's interdisciplinary graduate programs in materials science and engineering.
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