A modified jet engine has been used to successfully fight a West Virginia mine fire that had been burning for nearly two months and was the cause of 300 employees being temporarily laid off when mine operations were stopped.
Positioned at the mouth of the one of the mineshafts, the jet engine was used to blow water vapour and inert gases into the mine to smother the fire by creating an inert environment underground. It was the first time the technique had been tried in the United States.
‘As the Department of Energy continues its broad support of clean coal technologies, I never envisioned that we’d be using a jet engine to put out a mine fire,’ Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham said. ‘But this achievement shows that we can make use of non-traditional techniques, as well as our more formal research programs, to provide a cleaner environment through the clean coal program.’
By displacing oxygen in the mine with inert exhaust gases, the technique is said to have shaved months off the conventional method of sealing a mine and letting a fire burn itself out.
At the Loveridge Mine it took 10 days of continuously blowing the jet exhaust into the mine to create an inert atmosphere underground. By extinguishing the fire through use of the jet engine, miners were able to re-enter the mine more than 12 months sooner than if other fire fighting techniques had been used.
The jet engine system was brought to West Virginia from Australia by a team from the Queensland Mine Rescue Service. Earlier versions of the technique have been used in other parts of the world, and a similar concept was employed in Kuwait to extinguish oil well fires following the first Gulf War.
The fire had begun on February 13 when a mine car full of litter ignited near the bottom of a sloped entry shaft about 940 feet below the surface.
The jet engine and associated equipment arrived at the mine site on Friday, April 4. After engineers assembled it, the engine was turned on later that day. Employing a recirculating water-cooled afterburner, the jet engine was run at about half speed so as not to develop thrust. It blew roughly 64,000 cubic feet of water vapour, nitrogen and carbon dioxide into the mine.