Dr. Kray Luxbacher Leads $1.24 Million NIOSH Project

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Dr. Kray Luxbacher is leading the $1.25 million NIOSH Project

which seeks to better understand underground ventilaton

systems following a mine emergency

Virginia Tech has been awarded a $1.24 million, five-year contract by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) for a project titled “Development of a Method for the Remote Characterization of Underground Mine Ventilation Controls by Multiple Tracer Gases.”  The project seeks to better understand what happens to mine ventilation systems following emergencies such as roof falls, bumps or explosions, and it proposes the use of novel gas tracers as a means of remotely ascertaining information about ventilation control systems following a mine incident. Virginia Tech is one of seven recipients of this year’s NIOSH grant.

Dr. Kray Luxbacher, Assistant Professor in the Department of Mining and Minerals Engineering, is serving as principal investigator (PI) and will be joined by additional Virginia Tech faculty members who will serve as Co-PIs. Dr. Robert Boggess, Research Associate in the Department of Chemistry, Dr. Harold McNair, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Chemistry, and Dr. Saad Ragab, Professor in the Department of Engineering Sciences and Mechanics, all bring expertise in gas chromatography and computational fluid mechanics to this interdisciplinary project.
”This project has the potential to provide insight into the status of a mine ventilation system following a serious incident, when information is limited and decisions impacting the safety of mine rescue personnel and miners must be made,”  says Luxbacher.

The project seeks to develop new mine emergency technology that accomplishes a number of specific objectives. First, it will allow for the simulation of tracer gas profiles under normal operating conditions in an underground coal mine. It will also facilitate the rapid collection of tracer gas profiles during emergency situations at an underground mine, as well as the rapid input of mine ventilation parameters for simulation during an emergency situation. Finally, the new technology aims to determine the state of ventilation controls, including the nature and general location of the damage, by comparing collected and simulated tracer gas profiles.

For the first year, NIOSH has awarded the project a contract for $250,000, renewable annually for five years. Phase 1 of the project aims to develop necessary experimental equipment, such as  a computer which will allow multiple users to employ computational fluid dynamics modeling, and an experimental apparatus for testing tracer gases.  Also during Phase 1, at least one tracer gas in addition to sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), the industry standard, will be identified and tested in the laboratory and field.  Additional gases allow complex mine ventilation systems to be evaluated more quickly.

The purpose of the NIOSH grant is to increase expertise in the area of mine ventilation thorough graduate education and the development of technologies that improve mine safety and health. According to Luxbacher, “The average age of people employed in the mining industry is fairly high, and the exodus of experienced personnel is affecting research and higher education.  This grant is a proactive step by NIOSH to increase expertise in mine ventilation, which is key to maintaining safe mines and advancing mine safety and health.”


Related Links

Faculty Profile: Dr. Kray Luxbacher