Coal mine technology to cut costs and save lives

World-first technology developed in Australia is cutting the cost and time associated with exploration for new coal mines, while simultaneously helping prevent outburst and gas explosion.

Brisbane-based company WellDog has commercialised an innovative GasMapper coal seam testing technical service. For the first time, this service is allowing mining companies to accurately detect and map underground gas characteristics before mining without drilling the extra wells required by slower and more expensive ‘core sampling’ techniques.

The new technology is already helping major mining companies in Australia and southern Africa optimise mine designs and identify safety risks before starting mining operations. The development has the potential to slash drilling-related exploration costs by more than 30 per cent and to cut years from new mine lead times.

Two of the biggest safety risks in mining are coal gas outbursts and explosions, which can occur when gases – specifically methane and carbon dioxide – stored under pressure in a coal seam are forcefully ejected or ignited. While WellDog CEO Dr John Pope said mine safety is a worldwide issue, Australia’s stringent safety testing requirements and movement to mine deeper, gassier coal seams, has provided the perfect motivation to develop and refine GasMapper in Australia.

“We combined gas sensing technology from the US with Australia’s unique open hole coal permeability testing technology to develop a tool that measures both gas content and permeability at the same time in existing chip holes,” Dr Pope said.
Dr Pope said coal exploration in Australia was going deeper than ever before, presenting increased challenges for mine safety management.

“The depths that mines in Australia are reaching means companies are encountering more gas under higher pressures which has created a need for this more accurate, cost effective and reliable technical service.

“An important application of this technology is occurring in the developing world, where higher-risk mining can sometimes occur when less stringent regulations are in place.

“Our technical service is highly portable and suitable for use in remote locations with minimal infrastructure. As a result, this technology can save lives,” Dr Pope said. Current methods of detecting methane and carbon dioxide characteristics require special wells to be drilled and core samples to be extracted and sent to laboratories; a difficult and timely process prone to errors, particularly in areas with limited provisions of laboratory infrastructure.

WellDog’s GasMapper uses a combination of technologies to deliver conclusive results within hours or days at the mine site, and with the need for 30 per cent fewer wells. Dr Pope said WellDog was actively exporting the GasMapper service worldwide, to areas including Africa, South America, Asia, Europe and the US.