While this was fairly obvious to those who used water in earlier times to wash out soil and minerals and carry them down to flumes and separation devices, it was not always immediately obvious to those who experimented with the use of larger jets for underground mining. There are two critical velocities involved, once the particles are removed from the surface, these are the settling velocity and the suspension velocities of the particles. Essentially these are the speeds at which the transporting water is travelling that prevents, or encourages, the particles to settle out. This is an important part of drilling horizontal holes, where the drill cuttings can settle in the long hole hehind the drill, and can both stop the drill from moving forwards and also trap it when it tries to retract (personal experience).
Figure 1. Settling velocities (after VCCS)
Because of the wide range of particles that are mined by a jet, it is sometimes suggested that flow velocities in flumes remain above 40 ft/sec. It becomes a lot more difficult to get particles back into suspension after they have settled out.
Because water and debris are dispersed around the impact point after jet impact and because the amount of water needed to keep the particles suspended and moving has to be high, this often means that the geometry of the excavation has to be tailored to capture and confine the water in a narrow space with the mined product.
The National Coal Board carried out early experiments in coal mining in Wales at Trelewis Drift. (Jenkins R.W. “hydraulic Mining – The NCB Installation at Trelewis Drift” MSc Thesis, University of Wales, 1961).
Figure 2. Early NCB remotely operated monitor (after Jenkins ibid).
The 5-ft 6-inch thick seam dipped at roughly 6 degrees, and the monitor was used initially to drive the drift, and then to slab off coal from the pillars on either side, and then to mine along the face of a pillar, driving coal from one drift to the next adjacent, as the drift was retreated.
Part of the problem that arose was that the coal broke off in pieces that were up to 2-ft thick, and once these fell to the floor they became more difficult to recover, particularly where they were scattered (and this was the reason that the monitor was being operated remotely since the debris was reaching the miners). (Jet pressure was around 1,000 psi). The mine was naturally very wet (over the waders of some miners) and production did not exceed 45 tons a shift, even though the costs at the time were around 50-pence per ton in 1963. The conclusion was that the slope of the seam was not adequate to help enough with coal transport and the experiments were terminated.
This is in contrast to work elsewhere (the British trials had been commissioned after Russian hydraulic mining trials had been reported as successful). But the Russian work was carried out in the Donets coal basin, where the seams are much steeper, and more difficult to mine conventionally.
V.S. Muchnick wrote his dissertation on hydraulic coal mining in 1935, describing these early trials. While it was difficult to manually work in the steep seams, setting up a simple monitor that would wash away the coal, which would then fall under gravity to the drift tunnel beneath the mining operation was much more successful.
Figure 3. Early Russian Monitor (RGM-1)
Because of the Second World War hydraulic mining did not get its start until 1952 at the Tyrganskii-Uklony mine in the Kuznetsk Basin. Production in the hydraulic sections was anticipated to be 500 tons.shift, but by the end of the first year it had already exceeded 600 tons, more than twice conventional mining production. In the early operations the coal was weakened by blasting, but by 1957 jet pressures were raised sufficiently that this was no longer needed.
Figure 4. Showing the major Russian coal basins (Gazprom )
By 1979 there were nine major hydraulic mines in the Soviet Union with an annual production of over 8.9 million tonnes. As the mining operations expanded, so the monitors were increasingly operated remotely using hydraulic cylinders to direct the jets at the coal. At pressures of 1,500 psi the monitors could mine over 50 tonnes an hour, using around 650 gpm of water. (This was later doubled).
In almost all these operations the mine is worked in retreat, first driving the drifts to the back of the section, and then mining back, allowing the coal either to fall into the drift, where the water volume is sufficient to carry it into the flume, or pushing it down to the underlying drift, where it can similarly be collected.
Figure 5. GMDTs-3M monitor used in the Soviet Union
The mining pattern changed with the thickness of the coal, and with the steepness of the slopes at which the seams ran, although the access drifts were run more up dip, while the mining drifts were at a shallower angle closer to horizontal, so as to make working conditions easier, and to more effectively remove most of the coal from the section. In this way the coal collapsed under gravity down to the drift, where the water would float it into the flume. ( A barrier across the drift would confine the water and coal and act as a feed mechanism).
Figure 6. Method of mining in Soviet hydraulic mines in gently dipping seams of average thickness.
I will discuss the expansion of the technology around the world in later posts.