Laboratory Strength Testing of Coal from Selected Illinois Seams
Organization: International Conference on Ground Control in Mining
Jan 1, 2004
For many years, researchers around the world have been investigating coal pillar stability. Many have focused on trying to optimize the size of the pillars by examining stable and failed pillars in underground coal mines. For mines that are already in operation or companies that are opening a new mine adjacent to an existing mine where the pillar dimensions and stability can easily be determined, this is the preferred technique. However, when a new mine is planned for an area where there has been relatively little mining, then samples of the coal need to be drilled and tested for strength. Because of the fractured nature of coal, this lab testing is often problematic and may often yield poor results because of the limited size and number of samples that can be obtained from the core. To remedy this problem, research was conducted in the labs at SIUC to determine if improvements could be made when optimizing the size of pillars for underground coal mining in Illinois. Through a greater understanding of the relationship between dimensions and strengths of coal samples tested in the lab, it was hoped the in situ strength of coal pillars could be determined with greater accuracy. This could allow the extraction ratio to be increased and more of the coal resources in Illinois recovered without impacting the safety of the mine workers. Many different agencies around the world have published recommended minimum numbers of samples for strength determination based on the size of the coal samples. For two inch cubes, uniaxial testing of at least seven samples is recommended and this minimum number decreases to four when testing four inch cubes. However, the laboratory testing of coal from two seams thus far has suggested this number should be almost doubled to accurately determine the coal strength. Testing also showed there is a pronounced decrease in the variation in the strength of the samples tested as the dimensions of the sample were increased. From the testing results thus far, it is recommended that a sample size versus strength curve be constructed for every coal seam for Illinois. Creating such a curve will better determine both the minimum number of samples and minimum sample dimensions for that seam or region of a particular scam. A second set of tests were conducted in the laboratory to determine the increase in strength with reduction in height for samples with the same width and length. In Illinois, typical pillar dimensions are 40 to 80 feet (12.2 to 24.4 m) wide and long, with coal thickness varying from about 4 to 9 feet (1.22 to 2.74 m). This provides width/height ratios ranging from 4.5 to 17.5. Coal samples having width/height ratios ranging from 0.5 to 13 have been tested thus far. As with most pillar design formulae, the strength of the Murphysboro coal versus width/height ratio was linear and closely matched shape factors published by other researchers. The laboratory testing thus far has identified three factors that affect the strength of laboratory samples, the number of discontinuities, the angles of critical discontinuities, and the shape of the samples. The factor that probably had the most pronounced effect on the strength of the coal samples was the angle of critical discontinuities. This testing has confirmed that there is still a gap that needs to be bridged between the strength obtained from laboratory testing and the in situ coal strength predicted.