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Delivering Wet Fuel to the Fire

Saturated coal does not have to dampen plant efficiency

The Scherer coal plant, operated by Southern Co., had spent many years suffering from issues with transfer system efficiency due to wet coal. Wet coal has forced the coal plant’s bulk handling systems to reduce, or “derate,” capacity on conveyors for more than 15 years.

Power plant operations have become accustomed to derated operation under certain conditions and have begun to accept it as normal. A redesign and retrofit of critical bulk-handling systems, taking wet coal into account by leveraging cutting-edge 3-D laser scanning and modeling technology, increased transfer system efficiency and throughput.

After the Scherer retrofit, the redesigned chute-work systems so effectively conveyed wet coal that the plant was unprepared for the first time wet material arrived at the pulverizers. The increased throughput in the redesigned transfer systems exposed other weaknesses in the handling system downstream. A thorough analysis of these bottlenecks provided the ability for the Scherer team to budget for rework where necessary. Working in close coordination with the Scherer team, Acensium was able to assess client goals based on their priorities and deliver a retrofit that fulfilled the set goal beyond stated expectations.

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Jennmar Solves the Pumpable Resin Riddle

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New automated resin injection system should improve safety for operators in weak ground conditions

The ground control specialists at Jennmar have made a major breakthrough. For the last two years, they have been working on a system that will allow an operator to pump resin into thehole from his cabin before he spins the bolt, eliminating the use of traditional resin cartridges. The benefits for the system would be twofold: the bolting machine operator remains in a safe position when the machine is likely in the riskiest location and the automation function will only further enhance productivity.

Similar to others in the mining industry, Jennmar saw activity decrease substantially in the first half of last year. They opted to use that time to advance some of the projects they had on the drawing board and to reinforce sound ground control principles to an industry fraught with turnover. “We have been working with both the mines and the regulatory agencies as far as roof control training programs,” said Dr. John Stankus, president, Keystone Mining Service, the engineering affiliate of Jennmar. “On top of that, our ground control engineering group has been incredibly busy since the election. Idled mines are reopening and that requires rehab activity with steel supports.” Jennmar makes various steel supports at its Virginia facility, and one of the more popular products is its impact-resistant steel sets for supporting roof fall cavities.

As far as new products and equipment, Jennmar has developed a self-drilling, injectable hollow-bar bolt for yielding ground. The hollow-bar system was designed to work with an automated pumpable resin system (J-Lok P). This ground control technique combines drilling and grouting as a single operation, ensuring that resin is placed over the full length of the borehole. It is ideal for ground conditions where boreholes collapse.

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Using Operational Experience to Better Engineer Projects

DRA Taggart is looking to expand globally while maintaining its leadership position in North America

 Those who witnessed that last major build- out of U.S. coal preparation plants will likely remember that Taggart Global was the engineering firm that led the charge with much of the engineering, design and construction work. In July 2013, Taggart Global, which was having financial difficulties, was acquired by Forge Group, an engineering, procurement and construction management (EPCM) firm based in Perth, Australia, for $43 million plus an additional $25 million of potential earn-out payments. Forge’s parent company went into administration. One year later, DRA Group Holdings Pty Ltd., a global multidisciplinary engineering group that originated in South Africa and specializes in mining, minerals processing and infrastructure services, stepped forward and rescued what remained of Taggart Global.

The Taggart acquisition added extensive experience in coal preparation and diverse mineral and aggregate handling systems in North America, Africa, Australia and China to DRA’s mix. At the time, DRA had offices and operations in nine African countries, Australia, Canada, China and India. The Taggart business was rebranded DRA Taggart and consolidated into DRA’s operations in the Americas.

The business climate, especially as it relates to coal mining and processing, forced a lot of companies to readjust their strategies, and DRA Taggart was no different.

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New Initiatives Launched to Improve Coal-Fired Power

While much of the mainstream media has been distracted by renewable energy, the coal business has quietly continued to consistently provide low-cost power from a relatively small footprint. They do so more cleanly today than they ever have. Still, when a power provider opts for new coal technology, they are usually referred to as a group that is bucking the low-carbon trend. After being the target of environmental activism for more than 40 years now, the coal-fired power segment gets that, but they also deserve some respect.

Last year, a total of at least eight coal-fired plants were recognized as leaders in their respective fields. Sadly, the general public never received that news. Even longtime Coal Age readers might be surprised to learn about some of the recent activities taking place among coal-fired powerproviders. GE, for example, has launched a major campaign to reduce emissions from existing coal-fired power plants. Rather than closing them, they are suggesting that they be retooled with the latest upgrades.

What follows is a collection of some of the more positive stories from the coal-fired sector that have been announced in the last six months or so.

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IGCC Technology Coming of Age

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Too old to be babied, yet still too young to be blamed, integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) technology is slowly emerging from adolescence.

While there are hundreds of pulverized coal-fired power plants in the U.S., there are only three operational IGCC power plants stateside. The eldest IGCC facility celebrated its 20th anniversary of operations last year, and it no longer uses coal due to costs. Its youngest sibling is double its size, more complex, and consistently garnered maudlin headlines over the last half decade as it exploded budget constraints and repeatedly missed deadlines while ramping up. The middle child, also double the size of the eldest, during ramp-up was such a locus of scandal an executive told the local daily it would “need an exorcist.”1 Their parents were prototype facilities, conceived in the public sector and academia, birthed in the private sector, coddled by government, and now either closed or converted. One is currently being repurposed to make fertilizer. Abroad, IGCC has met perhaps more success and interest, specifically in countries with high coal and low natural gas reserves.

This snapshot perhaps lends to cynical conclusions unnecessarily. No doubt, cheap natural gas from north-central Appalachia is killing more than just the U.S. coal sector. Nuclear plants nationwide are getting the axe, and uranium miner Cameco recently vaporized jobs after shuttering a mine and attempting to placate stampeding investors. Indeed, IGCC is in good company as a viable technology that has been sidelined by the advent and deployment of innovative hydraulic fracturing drilling technology making Marcellus shale-bound gas accessible.

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Informational Preferences of Coal Miners

The What, When and Who

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Miners need to be aware of their surroundings in order to keep themselves safe and healthy and reduce their risk. To maintain situational awareness, they need to detect, understand and act on the events going on around them (Endsley et al., 2000). Miners can get some health and safety information from what they can see, smell, touch or feel. However, in today’s mines, they also get an increasing amount of information via technology.

In order to better define the situational awareness and informational preferences of miners underground, NIOSH researchers asked miners what information they think is critical to know, who knows it, how often it is updated, and who is responsible for monitoring it. Researchers also asked them, in an ideal setting, who should know it, how often should it be updated, and who should be responsible for monitoring it. The survey focused on miners’ perceptions of gas levels, airflow, dust levels, and the location of people and equipment (Figure 1). These items were selected because they are some of the most common measurements related to critical health and safety risks.

While the survey was designed to be independent of technology and information presentation methods (i.e., display, alert, etc.), gas, dust and location information offer an interesting comparison related to technology integration and are the focus here. First, these technologies are of varying maturity. The multigas meter is the oldest, with approved methane detectors dating back to the 1950s (MSHA, 2015c). Second, regulated dust monitoring technology dates back to the 1980s, but was significantly overhauled in 2014 with the introduction of the continuous personal dust monitor (CPDM) (MSHA, 2014). Last, proximity detection is the newest of the three, with a new requirement for continuous mining machines and a proposed rule for mobile haulage over the last two years (MSHA, 2015a; 2015b).

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