Longwall Mining – Introduction

Trent, Robert H. ; Harrison, William
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 34
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1982
GENERAL DESCRIPTION History The most striking feature of mining in the United States has been the infrequent use of longwall systems. This system, which accounts for the majority of coal production in Europe, Japan, and other countries, is only recently growing out of its infancy in the mining of normal coal seams and is still untried in the mining of thick coal seams in the US. Its use in the mining of metal and nonmetal ore bodies has been virtually ig¬nored, except for isolated instances in trona, copper, and uranium. Longwall mining is believed to have originated in Shropshire, England, towards the end of the 17th cen¬tury (Laird, 1973). Although the method used would be considered primitive by today's standards, many of the basic concepts have remained unchanged. Longwall mining of coal in the US was first introduced before the turn of the century, but it never gained acceptance as it did in Europe. Historically, longwalling was a cyclic method where a single cut of coal was removed from the face on the producing shift each day, and the work of building stone packs in the gob and manually moving roof support was completed on the off shifts. Due to the amount of dead work, productivity was extremely low. In Europe, however, longwall methods were required despite the high costs involved, because only by this method could coal under heavy depth be mined with any reasonable degree of recovery. Reserves of coal lying under shallow cover, and therefore minable by room¬and-pillar methods, were long ago inadequate to supply most of Europe's coal requirements. In the US coal min¬ing has historically proceeded laterally with the new mines in virgin areas to replace old mines; in Great Britain, Germany, Japan, and many other countries, mining must proceed downward to greater depths. The depth of cover for most coal operations in the US is shallow, i.e., 61 to 305 m (200 to 1000 ft). This, combined with large reserves, has made room-and-pillar methods almost universally applicable. However, longwall systems were tried around the turn of the century. Whenever used, it was frequently noted that the opera¬tion was under the direction of men with foreign ex¬perience and was tried under ideal conditions. Some of the mines that were using longwall or had tried longwall prior to 1910 were the Radiant mine, CO; Vinton Coal Co., PA; Cambria Steel Co., Johnstown, PA; Grundy County and Spring Valley, IL; and unnamed mines in Washington, West Virginia, Kentucky, Iowa, and Kansas. As late as 1961, there was one circular longwall in operation at Centerville, IA. The first modern-day op¬eration to take advantage of European technology and longwall methods was Kaiser Steel Corp. at its Sunnyside mine near Price, UT. Due to deep cover and extremely poor roof conditions, combined with a need for in¬creased production, Kaiser management decided a new method was required and turned to longwall in 1961. The first longwall consisted of an Anderson Mavor shearer loader, British Jeffrey-Diamond conveying equip¬ment, and Dowty roof supports with a capacity made up of two and three 27-t (30-st) capacity props. After nor¬mal start-up problems, this unit averaged over 454 t (500 st) per shift (White and Palacios, 1976). During and after World War II, technology in hy¬draulics and controls had advanced to the point that self-advancing supports and hydraulic props were being developed. In 1960 only I % of West German produc¬tion was from mechanized longwall faces. This in¬creased to 37% in 1970 and 63% in 1973 (Kohlgruber, 1974). In 1976 there were 246 coal mines operating in the United Kingdom. Although this is only 50% of those operating ten years ago, the production has increased 42%, mainly through improvements in longwall equipment and methods (Hunter, 1976). In France and other European countries, the devel¬opment of longwall mechanization has been similar in seams up to 2.44 m (8 ft) thick. In seams that exceed 9.14 m (30 ft), a variety of longwall caving has been developed for coal seams with dips of 0 to 1.6 rad (0 to 90°). Those with the greatest success will be discussed later. As noted, the development of longwall mining to its present state of the art has mainly taken place since World War II with substantial gains in the last ten years. Mechanized longwall has been the result of several re¬lated major innovations (Jackson, 1975) 1) Development of the flexible armored face con¬veyor which can be installed along the face and moved forward without disassembly. 2) Development of face machines such as single and double drum shearer and coal plows which operate in conjunction with the armored conveyors. 3) Development of self-advancing hydraulic roof supports which now include chocks, chock shields, and shields. 4) Reliance of caving of the immediate roof based on proper planning and development. 5) Use of pneumatic slowing to enable extraction below overbuilt areas. The most recent developments in the mining of coal by longwall in the US include the introduction of shield supports at Kaiser's York Canyon mine in New Mexico, single-entry longwall development at Kaiser's Sunnyside mine, and Mid-Continent's advancing longwall system in Colorado. Metal and nonmetal longwall systems in the US have included the mining of copper at White Pine, MI; uranium in Utah and New Mexico, and trona in Wyoming.
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