Clear minded thinking

A South African-based UK inventor has developed a remote controlled device that is claimed to clear land mines for a fraction of the current cost.

The MineBurner, created by former pilot Paul Richards, does not contain any explosive components, allowing it to be airlifted to regions where it is needed for humanitarian operations.

It can neutralise mines for around 10p compared to between £150–£500 per mine if they are manually cleared by an expert, claimed Richards. The device is due to enter commercial production this month.

There are an estimated 110 million active mines in over 80 countries according to the International Committee of the Red Cross, and 2,000 people are involved in land mine accidents every month.

Heightened terrorist alerts have made transporting explosives used to clear mines difficult, so countries have resorted to recovering materials from other munitions, which is dangerous.

The MineBurner does not detonate the mine, but neutralises it by burning away its explosive core. The device uses a remotecontrolled gas flame activated by an operator based 350m from the mine to burn through its casing, destroying its explosive core.

It consists of a metal tube fitted with a pouch containing three separate bladders.

One is filled with oxygen, another with LPG, or cooking stove gas, and the third with compressed air.

When the device is activated, gas is released from the first two bladders, while the third expands to fill the space left behind, delivering a constant rate of flow.

Oxygen and LPG are forced along a five metre narrow hose to a nozzle, where they are ignited.

The resulting flame is able to burn through a 1.6mm steel plate. The thickest mine available has a 1.2mm thick casing.

Richards developed the MineBurner while working on a lifejacket design. The device was developed with the help of a grant from the South African department of trade and industry.

‘This is desperately needed by the humanitarian de-mining community,’ he said. ‘Once the main charge is burned away there is nothing to explode. When we trialled the MineBurner, in some cases we actually burned out the detonator.’

A proof of concept MineBurner was sucessfully tested by the US Army last year. The device will be manufactured by South African firm Sabertek.

Richards said he would soon be demonstrating the device in Cambodia, while representatives from Cyprus were also interested.