Research to keep miners cool at extreme depths
New research is underway to help miners stay cooler while working at extreme depths underground
By Sudbury Star Staff, Sunday, July 23, 2017, 3:33:57 EDT AM
New research is underway to help miners stay cooler while working at extreme depths underground. Such research could eventually benefit workers at the Kidd Mine in Timmins, which is the deepest base metal mine in the world.
The idea here really is rather than cooling the entire chamber, it is most likely much more cost effective and efficient to be cooling the individual miners.
Research scientist Dr. Stephen Cheung of Brock University said the ultimate goal is to find ways to make miners feel cooler and more comfortable and therefore be able to contribute more to more production.
“As you know the deeper you go, the hotter the mines are and the greater the energy costs to ventilate those mines so that the miners can actually be working underground,” said Cheung.
Cheung said Brock University has partnered with Jannatec Technologies, a Sudbury company, to create a new “smart” vest designed to protect miners from heat stress and other discomforts. Cheung said he would be working with Jannatec senior research scientist Steffon Luoma of Sudbury.
Cheung, who is also Canada Research Chair in Environmental Ergonomics, said the research is just beginning.
“We have just received a grant for this from the Ontario Centres of Excellence so it is kind of at the very initial stages of collaboration between Jannatec Technologies and ourselves. So we are just getting started and the project is over two to three years,” he said.
Cheung said the work underground can be “hot, humid and intense” and other types of cooling vests and work-wear have already been developed for miners. What would make the smart vest different he said is the use of sensors embedded in the vest that would adjust the cooling procedure for each person.
Cheung said the original cooling suits were developed back in the 1960s for NASA astronauts and would consist of sewing tubes into the clothing that would carry cool water throughout the suit.
“The technology in a sense hasn’t really advanced beyond that in 50 years,” said Cheung. He said this means that the cooling effect is either on, or it is off. He said this could mean the clothing might sometimes be cooling too much, or not cooling enough.
At the same time, he said, old style cooling runs the same temperature coolant throughout the suit.
“You may be getting too much cooling in one part of your body or not enough cooling in another part, so it is very inefficient,” said Cheung.
“So what we are trying to do is develop a smart and very personalized and individualized cooling system and the methods for controlling it,” he explained.
He said the first part of the grant money would be used to develop an active cooling vest, instead of using a single tube cooling system.
Cheung said part of the research would look at where on the body it is the most efficient to apply cooling.
“If for example, you had 150 watts of cooling; do you place it evenly across the entire torso front and back, or do you strategically have more cooling let’s say on the upper body or upper part of the chest and the lower back?” said Cheung
Another aspect of research he said is determining how to use sensors in the vest to determine where to apply cooling and how much cooling to apply to specific parts of the body.
Along with monitoring the ambient environmental temperature in a drift or a raise, Cheung said research would also look into the heat generated from within a miner’s body based on the amount of individual exertion.
“The third sensor we’re developing is really a kind of bio-feedback, based on your heart rate and your skin temperature and what your predicted deep-body temperature is going to be,” he said.
He said the ideal situation is to determine where the cooling takes place and how much cooling takes place in real time, based on the activity of the individual miner.
Another thing to take into consideration he said is that every person can be expected to respond differently to heat and cold.
“Even if you’re sitting in your office and the air conditioning is on, let’s say at 22 degrees. It may feel really cold to one person and may feel too hot to another,” he said.
Cheung said it would be wrong to assume that every person responds to cooling the same way while working underground. That’s when the sensors would adjust the temperature for each miner, he said.