Despite continued safety improvements and increased regulations, underground mines remain a very dangerous work environment, as evident from recent disasters at the Sago (2006), Darby (2006), and Crandall Canyon (2007) mines. As recommended by the Mine Safety Technology and Training Commission, new, cost- effective technologies are needed to enhance monitoring within mines. We propose to develop key sensor, instrumentation and data analysis technologies that will be integrated to form a miniaturized intelligent electrochemical gas analysis system (iEGAS) tailored to the needs and challenges of mine safety applications. Major innovations in diverse technical areas will be synergistically combined within the following specific aims: 1) Develop and characterize a miniaturized electrochemical sensor array for detection and quantification of multiple mine gases, 2) Design and optimize compact electrochemical instrumentation electronics and intelligent algorithms for autonomous operation, 3) Integrate and characterize a model multi- gas electrochemical microsystem for mine safety monitoring and hazardous condition prediction. Through an innovative electrochemical sensor array approach, room-temperature ionic liquids and conductive polymer membranes will be developed for detection of multiple mine gases. An innovative instrumentation chip will implement multiple electrochemical measurement techniques to enable a very compact, low power microsystem implementation of the iEGAS system. New, highly efficient sensor array data analysis algorithms will enable concentrations of specific gases to be accurately measured within a mixed-gas environment and provide pattern recognition to generate information critical to mine safety decision making. The proposed microsystem offers significant advantages over existing gas sensors. It will measure all gases linked to fires and explosions (CH4, CO, CO2, O2) as well as hazardous exhaust gases (NO, NO2, SO2). It will intelligently analyze sensor data to predict hazardous conditions, report alerts and aid escape route planning. The autonomous iEGAS system can be deployed with miners or at fixed locations within a mine for long-term monitoring without user input or training. It will be inexpensive, ultra compact and lightweight, easily carried by miners and rescue teams. It will utilize a standard interface to communicate with existing mine infrastructure or with wireless mine communication handsets to realize a highly distributed, mobile, multi-gas monitoring network. The robust sensor platform is inherently resistant to vibration, smoke, moisture, and other common mine interferents, and sensors will be internally calibrated for variable environmental conditions (temperature, humidity). An operational model of the proposed iEGAS system will be implemented and characterized in a laboratory where gas concentrations and environmental parameters can be accurately controlled to mimic the range of conditions within underground mines. The multidisciplinary team of investigators will consult with mine safety experts throughout the project to ensure the developed technologies meet mining industry needs.
Mines have historically presented dangerous environments for workers, in the United States and worldwide. We propose to develop an innovative autonomous electrochemical gas detection microsystem for mine safety that enables distributed long-term monitoring of multiple gases and predictions of hazardous conditions in underground mines. If successful, this project will have substantial scientific and practical impacts, could save lives by preventing explosions or fires, could reduce health problems for mine workers, and could protect billions of dollars of mining assets.
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