Contaminants of the Underground Atmosphere

Mount, William H.
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 19
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1982
INTRODUCTION Effective mine ventilation is required to maintain a healthy underground environment for humans. Without effective ventilation, the environment can become unhealthy or hazardous as a result of the depletion of oxygen, contamination with toxic gases, or the buildup of an excessive amount of particulate matter (dust). Each contaminant has an upper limit of concentration that should not be exceeded within an 8-hr period. This is known as the threshold limit value (TLV). The TLV represents an acceptable level of exposure that should produce no ill effects. Unfortunately, more than one contaminant may be present at any one time and the effects of the individual contaminants may be additive, i.e., the effects of each contaminant must be considered simultaneously to determine the potential danger to miners. Possibly the greatest threat to mine-air quality is the uncontrolled underground use of the diesel engine. The diesel engine was invented in 1892 by Rudolf Diesel. His intention was to develop a power source that could burn coal dust as a fuel, but he was unsuccessful in that attempt and had to resort to liquid petroleum fuels (Johnson, 1975). In 1898, the diesel engine was intro¬duced into the United States by Adolphus Busch, who anticipated using it as a prime mover in factories and generating plants. At that time, the diesel engine was a very large and very heavy engine, designed for fixed installations. By 1919, lighter engines were being developed, and by 1931, Caterpillar was marketing a diesel-powered, track-type tractor (Henderson, 1975). Since 1931, the diesel engine has evolved into an extremely popular prime mover in medium and heavy-duty applications. Efficiencies now are on the order of 40% and improvements such as turbocharging and aftercooling have produced engines capable of generating power at a ratio of 0.3 kW/kg (1.0 hp per 5.0 lb) of engine weight. Although the diesel engine is relatively efficient as a mobile power plant, it is far from efficient in terms of the energy produced from the energy potential of the fuel. About 60% of the heat value of the fuel leaves the engine as wasted heat, with about 50% of that heat being emitted through the exhaust pipe and the other 50% being emitted through the radiator or cooling fins. Perfect combustion in an engine would produce only water vapor (H_0), carbon dioxide (CO_), and nitro¬gen (N2) as the byproducts. Since the diesel is not a perfect engine, each pound of fuel burned generates 5.6 m° (200 cu ft) of exhaust gas, containing about 0.009 m3 (0.33 cu ft) of carbon monoxide (CO), 0.009 m' (0.33 cu ft) of nitrogen oxides (NO, NO2, and NOD), and 0.57 m3 (20 cu ft) of carbon dioxide. The balance of the exhaust emission consists of free nitrogen and water vapor (Hurn, 1975). Contrary to popular belief, the diesel is not inherently dirty. Under normal operating conditions, a well-maintained engine neither smokes nor smells. However, the same well-maintained engine can and does produce toxic emissions. A diesel engine is not inherently safe and constitutes a distinct hazard to personnel. This chapter is devoted to a description of the various toxic substances that may be generated by a diesel engine. Although some of these substances may also be produced by blasting or natural causes, the focus of this chapter is on the relationship between the internal- combustion compression-ignition engine (the diesel) and the quality of the mine air. CARBON MONOXIDE Combustion Process During the combustion process (burning) of organic fuels, each atom of carbon combines with two atoms of oxygen, provided that a surplus of oxygen atoms is available. Thus, the carbon is oxidized to carbon dioxide. Most open flames, such as trash fires, camp fires, gas ranges, etc., produce carbon dioxide. However, with insufficient oxygen, incomplete combustion results as the carbon atoms each combine with one atom of oxygen to produce toxic carbon monoxide. Burning charcoal briquettes produce carbon monoxide because the combustion takes place inside the briquettes where sufficient oxygen is not available to the combustion process. Internal-combustion engines, whether burning gasoline or diesel fuel, also produce carbon monoxide. The only oxygen available to the combustion process is that trapped within the cylinder. If the amount of fuel delivered to the cylinder is excessive, there is insufficient oxygen for complete combustion and carbon monoxide production results. In a normally aspirated (nonturbocharged) diesel engine, the amount of air "sucked" into a cylinder is the same on every intake stroke, resulting in complete combustion only at low levels of engine loading, when small amounts of fuel are injected. Higher levels of engine loading cause larger amounts of fuel to be injected into the same volume of air in the cylinder. Unless the volume of air is increased, the combustion process becomes progressively less complete as the amount of fuel increases. Turbocharged engines are able to compensate some¬what for increased loading and increased fuel consumption. The turbocharger acts as a compressor for the intake air, forcing a larger volume of air into the cylinders as the engine speed increases. Hence the turbocharged engine burns cleaner than a naturally aspirated engine and produces slightly less carbon monoxide (Marshall and Fleming, 1971). Much of the underground equipment used today is powered by turbocharged indirect-injection diesel engines. Although these engines emit fewer toxic contaminants than naturally aspirated engines, they do not eliminate the problem. Since the turbocharger is driven by the exhaust gases, rapid accelerations can cause temporary overfueling of the engine until the turbocharger attains a speed sufficient to restore the correct air-to-fuel ratio. During this "turbocharger lag," the combustion cylinders contain insufficient oxygen, causing severe smoking and an increased output of carbon monoxide.
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