2

RESEARCH PROGRAMS

BRIEF SUMMARIES OF ACTIVITIES

The U.S. Bureau of Mines conducts research in three program areas: Health, Safety and Mining Technology; Minerals and Materials Sciences; and Environmental Technology. Activities in each program area are described briefly in this chapter.

Health, Safety and Mining Technology

According to the long-range research plan of its Health, Safety and Mining Technology (HSMT) program, the bureau conducts research on issues

. . . where there is not sufficient economic incentive for individual mining companies to perform the research, but where the potential benefit to the Nation justifies federal involvement. Focus is on eliminating the hazards before they develop, on providing technology for inherently safer and more productive mining systems, and on providing adequate attention to the human element in order to assure safe and efficient interaction among mine workers, the environments they work in, and the equipment they operate.

The bureau's HSMT program consists of some 182 separate projects, with FY1994 funding of approximately $52 million. The program is grouped into seven research elements, which include

  • occupational health (24 projects, $8.20 million, not including about $2.5 million for respirable dust generic center research),

  • ground control (37 projects, $9.91 million),

  • mining safety systems (36 projects, $9.98 million),

  • human factors (12 projects, $3.31 million),

  • mine disaster prevention (36 projects, $7.69 million),

  • experimental facilities (four projects, $2.34 million), and

  • advanced mining systems (33 projects, $10.29 million).



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RESEARCH PROGRAMS OF THE U.S. BUREAU OF MINES—FIRST ASSESSMENT, 1994 2 RESEARCH PROGRAMS BRIEF SUMMARIES OF ACTIVITIES The U.S. Bureau of Mines conducts research in three program areas: Health, Safety and Mining Technology; Minerals and Materials Sciences; and Environmental Technology. Activities in each program area are described briefly in this chapter. Health, Safety and Mining Technology According to the long-range research plan of its Health, Safety and Mining Technology (HSMT) program, the bureau conducts research on issues . . . where there is not sufficient economic incentive for individual mining companies to perform the research, but where the potential benefit to the Nation justifies federal involvement. Focus is on eliminating the hazards before they develop, on providing technology for inherently safer and more productive mining systems, and on providing adequate attention to the human element in order to assure safe and efficient interaction among mine workers, the environments they work in, and the equipment they operate. The bureau's HSMT program consists of some 182 separate projects, with FY1994 funding of approximately $52 million. The program is grouped into seven research elements, which include occupational health (24 projects, $8.20 million, not including about $2.5 million for respirable dust generic center research), ground control (37 projects, $9.91 million), mining safety systems (36 projects, $9.98 million), human factors (12 projects, $3.31 million), mine disaster prevention (36 projects, $7.69 million), experimental facilities (four projects, $2.34 million), and advanced mining systems (33 projects, $10.29 million).

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RESEARCH PROGRAMS OF THE U.S. BUREAU OF MINES—FIRST ASSESSMENT, 1994 Much of the HSMT research is driven by the existence of and need for regulations. As examples, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA, Department of Labor) requires a sound basis for promulgation of regulations and methods for determining compliance; mine operators want to stay in compliance by applying improved health and safety procedures; and labor unions wish to ensure the health and safety of their members. This regulatory driver is formalized within the HSMT program by agreements with MSHA on ranking and directly participating in many of the research projects. This interrelationship between research (bureau), regulation (MSHA), and those regulated (coal mining industry) is key to the success of the program. The occupational health research element was the subject of detailed assessment by a panel of this committee (see Appendix A). The principal subelements that comprise the program are (1) respirable dust generation, control, and monitoring; (2) diesel emissions control and monitoring; (3) noise; and (4) other physical and chemical agents. The goal of the ground control research element is to produce technology to maintain structurally sound and stable excavations or openings at mines and to reduce accidents caused by ground failure. The research emphasizes ground control methods and techniques and procedures to characterize rock masses, detection and monitoring systems, and ground hazard evaluations. Funds for ground control research are slated to be reduced by about 30% in FY1995. A detailed assessment by the committee of ground control research activities and future plans has been requested by the bureau for calendar year 1995. In the 1994 long-range plan, research on occupational safety comprised the elements of mining safety systems and human factors listed above. The research is directed toward technology to reduce accidents, injuries, and fatalities in underground and surface mining operations and to improve the interface between the miner and the mining systems. The principal six subelements of the occupational safety element (the first three in mining safety systems, the latter three in human factors) are (1) electrical hazards, (2) equipment hazards, (3) haulage/transport, (4) optimization of human resources, (5) training and evaluation, and (6) ergonomics. Related activities in mine disaster prevention involve the development of technologies and strategies that will either prevent mine disasters or enable miners to survive them. The four subelements included in this research are (1) fires and explosions, (2) survival and rescue, (3) gas migration and outbursts, and (4) explosives. Research on all four subelements needs to be considered in a balanced, or systems, approach to address mine emergencies. The bureau maintains four experimental facilities to conduct full-scale tests in a controlled mine environment. These facilities consist of the Lake Lynn (near Fair-

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RESEARCH PROGRAMS OF THE U.S. BUREAU OF MINES—FIRST ASSESSMENT, 1994 child, PA) large underground facility in limestone plus two experimental coal mines and a mine roof simulator at the Pittsburgh Research Center. These facilities support research in most of the HSMT areas, with the mine roof simulator primarily designed for ground control research. Research on advanced mining systems focuses on systems that might be more efficient and productive while moving workers to a safer and more secure location. These systems also can be less intrusive from an environmental or aesthetic perspective. Activities include (1) the use of robotics and computer-assisted mining technologies, particularly in coal mines; (2) in situ leach mining and other selective extraction techniques; and (3) novel rock breaking and cutting systems. Minerals and Materials Sciences The Minerals and Materials Sciences (MMS) research program consists of 82 separate projects, with FY1994 funding of approximately $25 million. The program is grouped into two research elements: mineral research (57 projects)— clean processing ($6.12 million), control technology ($3.50 million), minimization/recycling waste ($6.49 million); and materials research (25 projects)— materials performance ($3.89 million), materials synthesis and processing ($4.57 million). A sizable portion of the MMS research is performed at the Salt Lake City, Reno, and Albany research centers; additional discussions of these activities can be found in the respective site visit panel reports (see Appendix B, Appendix C, and Appendix D). As mentioned in the previous chapter, the bureau plans to transform the materials research element of the MMS program into a materials partnership program. The MMS long-range plan states that this should be phased in, for new projects, as follows: cost sharing should be at least 20% of total project budgets in FY1995, 40% in FY1996, and 50% in FY1997 and thereafter. The plan states that at least half the cost share should be in cash as opposed to in-kind contributions. Minerals research emphasizes pollution prevention and control within the minerals cycle. Clean processing research focuses on mineral processing and extraction technologies and includes research on environmentally acceptable reagents or lixiviants for leaching of metals from ores, particularly for in situ leaching of copper sulfides and for developing cyanide-free leachants for gold ores. Other research is

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RESEARCH PROGRAMS OF THE U.S. BUREAU OF MINES—FIRST ASSESSMENT, 1994 directed at developing techniques to enhance selectivity in metallurgical processes. Work on control technologies includes research and technology transfer to monitor and regulate processes and to treat waste streams before discharge from mineral processing plants. Much of the current effort in this area concentrates on process modeling and sensors to enhance control. Waste minimization and recycling activities include research and technology development to minimize and recycle scrap, residues, and effluents from mineral processing operations. Efforts are also directed toward developing technologies for recycling specific advanced materials, such as new rare-earth magnets, alloys in rechargeable batteries, fiber-reinforced alloys, titanium aluminides, and other materials that are appearing in the marketplace. Some projects involve applications of biotechnology for metal recovery and ore beneficiation. Materials research focuses on understanding processes that cause materials degradation and on the design and synthesis of new kinds of materials. Much of the research is concerned with (1) predicting and controlling the degradation of materials by wear, corrosion, and fracture and (2) developing and characterizing the degradation of new materials. Recent and ongoing research has included corrosion performance of coatings on coastal bridges and processing and characterization of nitrogen steel powders and titanium-based advanced materials. Other research includes the joining of advanced materials and lightweight intermetallic compounds and composites. Environmental Technology The bureau's Environmental Technology (ET) research program consists of 85 projects, with a FY1994 budget of approximately $21 million. The program is divided into four major elements: control of mine drainage and liquid wastes (29 projects, $7.91 million), solid waste management and subsidence (25 projects, $6.89 million), hazardous waste management technologies (20 projects, $3.92 million), and abandoned mine land research (11 projects, $2.04 million). The FY1995 budget request proposes that ET will increase substantially; this growth reflects the DOI's efforts to strengthen environmental research within the bureau.1 1   The bureau and the U.S. Geological Survey recently signed (September 9, 1994) a memorandum of agreement for the coordination of mineral-related environmental assessment, technology development, and remedial investigations.

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RESEARCH PROGRAMS OF THE U.S. BUREAU OF MINES—FIRST ASSESSMENT, 1994 Most of this increase is slated for the hazardous waste management technologies element, for which an 88% increase is proposed. The mission of the ET program is (1) to provide sound technology to support DOI's land management and regulatory obligations and (2) to develop new technologies for innovative and cost-effective methods to eliminate environmental problems from minerals production and related industrial operations on federal lands. Presumably these technologies would be transferable to nonfederal lands. The research element on control of mine drainage and liquid wastes largely deals with acid mine waters from inactive or abandoned coal and metal mines. Acid mine drainage commonly is produced from the oxidation of iron sulfide minerals exposed to the atmosphere, resulting in sulfuric acid that can enter the surrounding waters, dissolve trace toxic constituents, and endanger the ecosystem. The research deals with prediction, mitigation, and control and treatment technologies. The immediate goals of prediction are to understand the water and mine systems in order to prevent acid mine drainage in future operations. The mitigation and control aspect concentrates primarily on isolation of sulfide minerals to avoid the oxidation reactions that produce acid. Treatment technologies include biological and other means to immobilize dissolved toxic elements in waste streams. The solid waste management and subsidence research element focuses on developing better technologies for the disposal of mining and mineral processing wastes from current operations and on ameliorating environmental damage caused by past activities. Although there are huge volumes of rock removed and disposed of during mining operations, the research targets those solid wastes containing toxic metals that can be rendered environmentally benign. The wastes considered are those from both mining and processing of ores and other materials. The removal of rock during underground mining also can result in subsidence that can damage surface topography, hydrological conditions, and the mine infrastructure; research focuses on understanding and predicting those conditions that lead to subsidence. Research in the hazardous waste management technologies element is treated in two subelements: (1) improved characterization capabilities for complex metal-contaminated sites and (2) application of extractive metallurgical technologies appropriate for cleanup of metal-contaminated sites. Characterization of hazardous metal wastes is fundamentally similar to the mineral exploration process and shares many of the same basic problems—what is there, how much is there, and what are the remediation options. Similarly, the cleanup technologies can use technologies developed for the extraction of the metals from ores. As stated above, funding for this element is planned to double in FY1995. The abandoned mine land (AML) element differs from the others; it is a congressionally mandated program (PL 95-87, Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act

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RESEARCH PROGRAMS OF THE U.S. BUREAU OF MINES—FIRST ASSESSMENT, 1994 of 1977). The research component for AML was transferred from the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) to the bureau in 1987 (PL 99-591). 2 This research supports a national AML program administered by OSM. Individual projects are recommended on an annual basis by a joint federal-state government panel from responses to an annual solicitation. The bureau's current AML projects deal with subsidence issues, mine fires, water quality, revegetation, slope stability, and ground control around abandoned shafts and adits. SELECTION PROCESS The bureau has a formal process for research project selection that includes solicitation of “miniproposals.” The miniproposals provide a mechanism to evaluate research ideas without requiring excessive time to develop full-scale project proposals. Researchers who prepare miniproposals should be in touch with problems as they occur in the mining industry and elsewhere. Miniproposals are not prepared in a total vacuum; research center directors provide guidance based on the current long-range plan and the multiyear funding plan, which may target priority areas. Miniproposals are submitted annually (about November 30) to the directors of the research centers. They are reviewed and ranked, first by a research center director, then by the research division. Miniproposals are evaluated based on the following questions and criteria:3 Does it meet the objectives of the research program as defined in the long-range plan and the multiyear funding plan? Does it meet the intent of administrative/organizational goals? Could it be part of a potentially new budget initiative? Does the proposed research duplicate ongoing research being done in the bureau or elsewhere? Is it technically sound? Would the results be readily adopted by the mining and minerals processing industries? Would the private sector do the work needed to solve the problem? 2   See Setting Priorities for Abandoned Mine Land Research, 1987, National Research Council, National Academy Press, Washington, DC, 98 pp. 3   These are summarized from the bureau's Research Policy and Procedures Manual, version 1.2, October 1991.

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RESEARCH PROGRAMS OF THE U.S. BUREAU OF MINES—FIRST ASSESSMENT, 1994 Does the research have the potential to have significant impact on the industry or only marginal incremental impact? Do the anticipated benefits justify the costs? Is there potential for cost sharing by industry? Those reviewing the miniproposals are expected to rank them numerically based on these criteria. Miniproposals in the areas of safety and occupational health are also screened and evaluated by MSHA. In March those miniproposals that have a good probability of successful and relevant research and being funded in the next fiscal year are then prepared as full project proposals. Those proposals that pass a final review then have detailed work plans, budgets, milestones, and authorizations prepared for initiation of the research once the final congressional appropriation is enacted.