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longwall Mining
Stephen L. Bessinger

inTRoDuCTion relatively low-value product, particularly when coal is used

Longwall mining is a technique that evolved from a largely for electric power generation, the output of the longwall must
manual method in which rows of individual roof props sup- be a sustained stream, with low cost on a unit-of-production
ported the roof along a long face. The ore was broken from basis. The desirable image often suggested is that of a coal
the face, first by drilling and blasting, and later by mechanical faucet, which can be opened or closed as needed. Embedded
means powered by pneumatic, hydraulic, or electrical energy. in the image is the ability to adjust the flow to desired levels. It
Ore loading was done by hand shoveling into a conveyor or should be the goal of those involved in the design, operation,
rail cars at the face. This method was labor intensive, lacked and maintenance of a modern longwall to fulfill the goals of
productivity, and exposed workers to significant hazards. sustainability and productivity suggested by the coal faucet
Since then, technology evolution has produced spectacular image. It is notable that health and safety considerations are
improvements, motivated by the need for improved safety and intrinsically interwoven into longwall design and operating
productivity, as well as reduced labor and production costs. concepts because they are fundamental elements of sustain-
This evolutionary process has resulted in modern longwall ability and success. It is customarily accepted that longwall
systems, which are the focus of this chapter. The configura- mining is the safest and most productive mining method that
tion and major components of a modern longwall are shown can be applied to soft rock deposits.
in Figure 13.8-1. Longwall systems are serially dependent processes. This
The shearer traverses the face, excavating the ore within is because all of the associated equipment that supports long-
a defined extraction height. The mined material is loaded onto wall operation must function simultaneously, at the capacity
the armored face conveyor (AFC) by the shearer and is trans- of the longwall, to permit its operation. This dependence is a
ported to the main belt conveyor system via the stageloader. particular issue for the outby ore transport method, typically
The stageloader normally has an integral crusher to provide conveyor belts. Frequently shortfalls in outby conveyor belt
suitably sized material for conveyor belts. The shields advance performance are the most limiting constraint on longwall per-
sequentially, following the shearer to hold up the roof directly formance. The important point is that the success of the long-
above the face equipment and advance the AFC to repeat the wall system depends on the success of each of its constituent
cutting cycle. The excavated area behind the shields is allowed components, not just the machinery composing the longwall.
to collapse, which limits the roof load that the shields must This principle extends even to mine development activities
support and starts a process that may create surface subsid- that create the panel where the longwall will operate in the
ence. High-capacity longwall mining systems depend on the future.
breaking action of a machine to mine the ore. As such, modern Longwalls are typically designed for specific consider-
longwalls are used to produce ores that can be mechanically ations related to the target deposit. Notable among these con-
cut or broken without explosives. siderations are those described in the following sections.
High-capacity longwalls mainly produce coal, but exam-
ples also exist in trona, potash, and phosphate rock. The Deposit Depth
potential is being investigated to apply longwall technology Longwall mining has been applied to deposits with very shal-
to platinum and gold-reef deposits with equipment adapted to low depth of cover, perhaps less than 50 m in a few cases and
the requirements of stronger rocks. up to 1,600 m at the other extreme. Applications in the 100–
600-m depth are common for longwall coal mines, especially
longWAll APPliCATionS in the United States and Australia. The loads on longwall roof
Longwall mining has evolved mostly in response to coal- supports (shields) are largely independent of depth of cover.
mining applications. Because many coal mines yield a Shield loads are more related to the extraction height and the

Stephen L. Bessinger, Engineering Manager, BHP Billiton–San Juan Coal Company, Farmington, New Mexico, USA

1400 SMe Mining engineering handbook

Line Shield Section Conveyor Belt

Gate Shields
AFC Head Drive

Belt Tailpiece

Armored Face Stageloader

AFC Tail Drive Conveyor and Crusher

figure 13.8-1 Major components of a modern longwall

strata overlying the ore bed (seam) than to any other factor. process, chosen only after considerable planning and recon-
Mining-induced stresses on the face (front-abutment load) and naissance. Where ore thickness is greater, the longwall can
gate road pillars (side-abutment load) are depth related. Not extract up to the maximum cutting height of the shearer or
only must gate road pillars demonstrate expected stability, but near the fully extended height of the shields. Caution must
the roof, in conjunction with the primary and secondary sup- be used when approaching the fully extended height of the
ports, must also be stable. Floor lift (floor heave) is frequently shields to avoid a condition where the shields fail to apply and
encountered at increased depth or with weak materials in the maintain full loads into the roof without roof failure.
floor (i.e., under clay, fire clay, or claystone) (Peng 2006). Mining equipment technology has the consequence of
defining mining height in the following approximate intervals
Deposit Dip of deposit thickness (T).
Most longwall mining systems are applied where the inclina-
• Thin: T < 1.75 m
tions along the longwall face or the panel axis are low, less
• Moderate: 1.75 m < T < 3.75 m
than 8.5°. Although longwalls are being used at much steeper
• Thick: 3.75 m < T < 7.25 m
inclinations, these are not consistent with high productivity.
• Very thick: T > 7.25 m
Steeply inclined longwalls also require special adaptations to
stabilize the face against downhill creep, shield toppling, and Thin seam systems have historically applied longwall plow
product transport issues. Steep-seam, gate road development technology but have not achieved the productivity of thicker-
is also problematic. Steep, thick seams offer more opportunity seam, shearer-based applications.
for success but are still difficult. Most modern, high-capacity longwalls operate in the
As conveyor belt inclination increases, so do the issues moderate height category—from 1.75 to 3.75 m. Optimum
in its operation, up to a practical limit and depending on the height is generally agreed to be in the 2.5–4.0 m range for
material being conveyed. For run-of-mine (ROM) coal, this single-pass longwalls.
limit is in the 15° range (CEMA 1997). This value can be even Above 3.75 m and up to approximately 7.25 m mining
less, possibly 12°, if the material conveyed is wet. The wet height, the thick category, is the upper limit of single-pass
condition can arise when production volumes diminish but longwall capability. In this range, normal longwall equipment
water application is unchanged. In another case, large vol- requires numerous adaptations to perform successfully until it
umes of water can be transported by a submerged AFC onto reaches a practical limit at approximately 7.25 m.
the conveyor belt system. Importantly, operation of either con- Above 7.25-m extraction thickness, longwall technology
veyor belts or AFCs is easier when material flow is uphill. is forced into several alternatives: multilift longwall or top
Numerous difficulties arise when conveying material down an coal caving. On a worldwide basis, as very thick coal seams
appreciable grade, which far overwhelms any energy benefits extracted by surface mining extend to depths beyond economic
that might be realized (Evans 1993). limits, underground mining methods will be required that offer
The relative layout of the face and progression of pan- high resource recovery, such as longwall top coal caving.
els in the mining sequence with respect to dip is important
because of concerns about water migration, methane accumu- Deposit uniformity
lation, and toppling of face and rib materials. Ideally, a tabular deposit well suited to longwall mining
would exhibit uniformity in the ore bed/coal seam as well as
Deposit Thickness the adjacent roof and floor. Unfortunately, examples of such
Longwall systems are typically applied to laterally extensive ideal conditions are few. Generally, discontinuities result from
tabular deposits with limited variation in ore thickness. After structural or depositional origins but may also be the result of
the ore thickness and its variation are characterized within the post-depositional events.
area to be mined, a nominal mining height will be defined. Structural geologic disturbances normally involve fold-
Practical minimum and maximum mining heights are defined ing and faulting. Gentle inclinations induced by folding can
by critical equipment sizes and operating envelopes. The long- be considered as previously described in the discussion on dip.
wall has little flexibility in extraction of material within the However, if the gentle dips of a broad syncline, anticline, or
bounds of a panel and will cut through any area of the panel, monocline go over approximately 8.5° as a trend, this may limit
extracting at least its minimum operating height. The only applicability of the longwall. Expectations of high productivity
alternative is to bypass undesirable areas within the panel by may decline as the inclination steepens from 8.5° up to 15°.
withdrawing the longwall equipment and reinstalling it out- Aside from overall inclination, the rate of change of incli-
side the undesirable area. This is a costly and time-consuming nation becomes a constraint, as the AFC, shearer, and shields
longwall Mining 1401

Headgate Entry

Elevation, m

1 250
Dis 150 ,m
tan tr y
from 100 100
e En
Tail lga
gat 50 50 Tai
e, m
0 0

figure 13.8-2 Disturbed seam topography

all have different concerns in this regard. As an example, if quality and overall productivity. Obviously, proximity of
the radius of curvature of seam topography gets short, and the faults on a single face is problematic, as is the case where
shearer is able to follow it, the AFC may have less vertical faults, still at acute angle to the face, exhibit enduring persis-
articulation than required to follow the changed topography tence. Both of these cases may require revised ROM quality
and bridge, forming a span that is not supported by the floor. and productivity estimates.
Thus, the AFC would only be supported by the connections Then there are those cases where the fault is at a shallow
that hold adjacent pan sections together (dog bones or dumb angle with the face line or possibly even parallel to the face at
bells). By the AFC’s own weight, or with the additional weight worst case. This scenario can have seriously negative impacts
of the shearer, the AFC connections may fail or the pan struc- to productivity and may lead to premature face recovery or
ture may fail. This can cascade into an AFC system failure, even threaten the loss of equipment. If such a feature is sus-
such as a “chain wreck” where AFC chains break, flights are pected, it should be approached with caution after careful risk
damaged, and main drive sprockets may fail. Such incidents assessment and with a plan of mitigating actions in place. If
may take hours to days to repair and cost in the hundreds of such a feature is first recognized as it emerges onto the face,
thousands of dollars in direct and lost-opportunity costs. They it is certainly appropriate to make efforts to evaluate it and
also create avoidable safety hazards. implement a mitigation strategy before exposing a large pro-
In an alternate case, shields can lift their bases off the portion of the face to the hazard. It has frequently been the
floor during cyclic advancement if their canopies become case that a longwall could “outrun” a local adverse roof condi-
“iron bound” with adjacent shields because of a short radius tion; however, that is not true for faults parallel or at shallow
of curvature in extraction profile. This condition can result in a angle to the face.
suspended shield, which can fall to the floor unexpectedly and In the case of most structural faulting, the ground stresses
be a safety hazard. Of course, all of these problems are created within one block of the fault may not be equivalent to the
when the equipment is asked to do something that was never stresses in others. Although normal faulting is at some risk in
intended by the original equipment designer or, conversely, this regard, it is particularly problematic in thrust faults. The
was not identified as a performance requirement in the acqui- stress differential between blocks in a thrust-faulted scenario
sition specifications. Figure 13.8-2. shows a disturbed area can result in some blocks having extremely difficult ground
that was successfully mined with a longwall but not without control issues compared to others.
impact to productivity. Depositional discontinuities develop in response to con-
Another structural geology concern is fracturing or fault- ditions present at the time that the mineral deposit formed.
ing. An example might be fracturing along the axis of local These discontinuities commonly arise in conjunction with
bed flexure, which can adversely affect roof control or cause sand channels above or below a coal seam or as scours (also
elevated gas or water inflows. Notably, fractures/faults paral- termed faults or wants in some locales) where they erode and
lel to hillsides exist in some areas and may complicate logical replace the coal seam. Figure 13.8-3 depicts sand channels as
panel layouts beneath a ridge line. Faulting may be present they may commonly occur in coal-bearing strata.
with or without appreciable folding. Strata displacements may In near proximity to these features, it is possible to have
be normal faults, and total displacements may be distributed elevated stresses and differential compaction surfaces. These
across one or more discrete fault traces within a short distance. glassy smooth discontinuities (slickensides) are weak in ten-
This is generally a manageable issue so long as the local dis- sion and can constitute a hazard to roof control. Where large
placement is not too large. Because these features are prefer- thicknesses of coal occur over a short stratigraphic interval,
ably traversed at an acute angle to the face, grading roof, and compactional features can exist as faults, with displacements
floor into and out of the feature makes operating through local mostly confined in near proximity to the seam and having nor-
offsets feasible—up to double the mining height in displace- mally short lengths, perhaps less than 250 m. Compactional
ment. This will introduce an adverse impact to ROM product faults are not normally the source of great concern.
1402 SMe Mining engineering handbook

longwall is at risk of being idled during periods where excur-

sions beyond acceptable limits occur. In the United States,
concern is emerging for atmospheric safety in the mined-out
areas (gob or goaf) behind the longwall or in sealed adjacent
Several gases have prominent impacts on longwall design
and operation worldwide. These include those described in the
Scoured Base Cross-Bedding
of Channel Sandstone following paragraphs.

Source: Adapted from Papp et al. 1998. Methane

figure 13.8-3 Sand channel in coal strata Methane (CH4) is common in coal mines to varying degrees
and may be encountered in most sedimentary strata. Coal
seams have long been recognized as likely reservoir rocks for
Sand channels above the mining horizon can lead to methane, but it is increasingly recognized that other porous
increased shield set load and yield load requirements and and permeable near-seam rocks can be significant sources of
should be evaluated accordingly. Where these features might methane liberation. This is particularly true when the in-situ
be encountered at a shallow angle to the face, opportunities to rock mass is fragmented by mining-induced caving. Higher
avoid the condition are initially preferred. When near-seam CH4 liberation rates in new longwall gobs result from creation
sand bodies are strong and stiff, in conjunction with signifi- of smaller particles than existed in the undisturbed rock mass.
cant depth, the possibility of sudden strain energy release in Release of lithostatic stress also lends to increased production
response to mining can be a concern. rates of methane in caved material. Not only does the methane
Another variation of depositional discontinuity occurs fill the void space of rock porosity at some reservoir pressure,
when soft sediments are injected into or across the coal seam. it can be chemically adsorbed by coals. It is also common for
These are not usually large or strong, so they represent more of fractures or faults to be charged with fluids.
a threat to ROM quality and local ground control as opposed Occasionally the rock stress augmented with interstitial
to sustainability (Moore 1940). fluid (gas) pressure can be greater than the unconfined rock
In a similar fashion, it is occasionally the case that igne- strength, which results in one mechanism of outburst when
ous materials can be injected into coal-bearing strata, forming rock failure occurs. Not only can this create atmospheric inun-
lenticular or vertically crosscutting dikes. In various locations dations from the escaping gas, it can result in violent ground
around the world, including South Africa, Australia, and the control hazards. Such events are known in a few U.S. and
western United States, these igneous dikes can be a serious Australian coal mines.
obstacle to longwall operation. Where these bodies are nar- Lastly, the most notable hazard of methane in the mining
row, perhaps less than 1.0 m wide, they are often sufficiently environment is its explosibility when mixed with atmospheric
contaminated by entrained debris that they do not achieve oxygen in certain ratios. As one step to avoid this hazard, most
strength beyond the limits of mechanical cutting by a shearer longwall face equipment is designed, tested, and certified to
or continuous miner. However, when encountered as thicker be explosion proof or intrinsically safe. Explosion-proof
bodies, typically a stronger core requires other means to pen- equipment will not allow an ignition within the enclosure to
etrate it. In South Africa, this material is identified as doler- propagate outside it. Intrinsically safe components rely on the
ite and forms dikes off of sills intruded into the coal-bearing principle that methane–oxygen mixtures will not ignite below
strata. The dolerite dike material can be more than 140 MPa certain initiation energy thresholds, and they ensure that such
compressive strength (Papp et al. 1998). It is also the case that energy is never available, even during component failure
post-depositional events can lead to the formation of natural conditions.
coke, or a natural burn can produce coal loss with only resid-
ual coal ash. Carbon Monoxide
It is safe to assume that all of forms of rock-mass nonuni- Carbon monoxide (CO) can be adsorbed on coal and natu-
formity noted will have a negative impact on longwall opera- rally occurring or it can be a product of partial combustion
tion. As such, it is useful to identify any geologic features of hydrocarbon fuels or coal. This gas primarily represents a
at the planning stage. Although reconnaissance drilling and health hazard, but can be explosive in relatively high levels
detailed geologic mapping are customary, various geophysical when mixed with atmospheric oxygen.
methods can be applied to search for the different discontinu- Aside from its human toxicity, it is often an indicator of
ity types. Satellite imagery, magnetic or seismic surveys, and combustion, spontaneous combustion in some coals, or may
electromagnetic tomography are a few of the methods used. result from fire or explosion. Longwall mines with spontane-
Unfortunately, these methods are not universally useful, and ous combustion propensity may monitor the CO production
choice of method deserves careful attention. It is common to rate from the longwall as an early indicator of an evolving
find that none of the methods are particularly informative for thermal event.
any specific site.
Carbon Dioxide
Strata gases Carbon dioxide (CO2), a common strata gas, may be present
Characterizing the gases and quantities that might be encoun- along with methane or may be a dominant constituent. In some
tered during longwall development or subsequent longwall Australian cases, high-pressure CO2 resides in localized areas
mining is important when striving to achieve the coal fau- of the coal seam and requires specialized control measures
cet concept. If acceptable atmospheric conditions cannot be to manage the hazards of outbursts. CO2 is also a product of
continuously maintained where people work and travel, the full combustion of coal and hydrocarbons. As such, it can be
longwall Mining 1403

one of several gases monitored to detect evolving combustion as props, cans, or cribs with an inadequate foundation upon
events, spontaneous combustion in particular. Graham ratio, which to create resistance to roof deformation. Water manage-
Jones-Trickett ratio, and CO/CO2 ratio, as well as CO produc- ment, or the failure to manage it, is often a reason that long-
tion rate, may be used to detect the onset or monitor progres- wall productivity falls short of its full potential.
sion of a combustion event (SIMTARS 1999).
Spontaneous Combustion
Hydrogen Sulfide Spontaneous combustion is a condition where slow oxida-
Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) is primarily recognized in the mining tion of a combustible substance leads to heat evolution and
environment for its toxic effects on humans. It is also a con- increasing temperature until the material reaches a point
cern in longwall mining for its corrosive effects on metals and where combustion starts and spreads to adjacent fuel. Some
its participation in unexpected steel failures. coals, particularly those with lower rank, exhibit a propen-
H2S can dissolve in still water and be released when the sity toward spontaneous combustion (Cliff et al. 2004). It is
water is disturbed. The aqueous mechanism can bring it in a particular concern when spontaneous combustion heatings
direct contact with metals, such as bronze or steel in longwall or thermal events take place in a longwall gob (goaf), where
components, and result in metal sulfide formation and the lib- they can be difficult to locate and identify, and even more dif-
eration of free hydrogen (H2). Because H2 is not normally a ficult to access and extinguish. Such events typically cease
strata gas but is known to be an indicator gas in combustion production in the affected portion of the mine until, in the best
events, this can explain its existence without the presence of case, the event ends or, in the worst case, causes loss of life
a thermal event. and assets.
H2S can be a metabolic product of sulfate-reducing bacte- As serious as this scenario is, an even worse one is possi-
ria. These bacteria are naturally occurring and can form micro- ble where methane is present in combination with a coal prone
scopic colonies beneath which high concentrations of H2S can to spontaneous combustion. In that case, atmospheric oxygen
exist, perhaps up to 4,000 ppm. This can create overwhelming in combination with explosive methane levels can be ignited
corrosive or metallurgical effects while atmospheric levels by a small spontaneous combustion ignition source, resulting
remain low. in an explosion and fire. In such an event, multiple fatalities
and loss of assets are possible.
other gases and vapors Because responsible mine operators are committed to a
On occasion, other gases and vapors may naturally occur. zero-harm philosophy, effective controls must be offered to pre-
Low molecular weight hydrocarbons can exist in gas or liquid clude the possibility of a spontaneous combustion event or an
phases in sedimentary strata. Their combustibility and quan- explosion and fire. The mitigating strategy for all of these con-
tity may be reason for concern in some instances. cerns is the long known fire-triangle concept for fuel, oxygen,
In most cases, the regulatory body that has jurisdiction and ignition source. Considering the fire triangle, it becomes
over mining health and safety for a specific location will have immediately evident that in a spontaneous-combustion-prone
statutory guidelines for safe and legal levels of the noted coal mine, the only component that may be subject to control
gases. In order to be successful and sustainable, a longwall is oxygen. Thus, the choice of bleederless longwall ventilation,
system must be designed to accommodate safety and statutory explained later, can effectively exclude oxygen from the gob
compliance in order to avoid production outages associated (goaf) and mitigate the hazard.
with gas level excursions above allowable limits. As with any underground fire, the issue is only partially
getting the fire extinguished, which usually entails oxygen
Water deprivation, but also dissipating the residual heat resulting
In many areas, water is associated with the coal seam or near- from combustion so that the event will not simply resume if
seam strata. It may also be associated with overlying or updip oxygen becomes available again. This is also why early detec-
workings and fracturing or faults. In any event, its management tion and intervention are key components to a spontaneous
is reason for careful planning because of its generally negative combustion control plan. But the most important element is a
impacts to longwall development and operation, as well as the strong focus on prevention (Mitchell 1996).
typically negative impact it can have on ground control. Where
swelling clay minerals are present in the rock, the matrix may Roof and floor Strata
decompose when the clay minerals hydrate and swell. The One of the advantages of a longwall mining system is that it
slake-durability test is one measure of a rock’s behavior when can accommodate a wide range of roof conditions. Gate road
exposed to moisture. When swelling clay minerals are present, stability issues aside, stabilizing the longwall roof is actively
the rock typically performs poorly in slake durability. done by the shields. The shield must immediately stabilize the
Siltstone, mudstone, claystone, and fireclays are often near-seam roof when it is initially set against the roof after it
the operating floors for longwall development sections or the is advanced, referred to as set load. The set load required to
longwalls themselves. The often present water, coupled with stabilize the roof is a function of site-specific conditions and
the duty as a roadway for rubber-tired equipment, turns these parameters of the face cross section. The set load produced by
floors to mud, sometimes hundreds of millimeters deep. In the the shield is derived from the emulsion system pressure avail-
immediate headgate or tailgate entries, this can mean that the able to the shield during setting, the major stage diameter of the
belt tailpiece and stageloader are resting on mud and may even leg, and its resulting area. Set pressure applied to leg area and
invite floor heave, which requires clearance before equipment derated, to account for leg inclination (angle to vertical) func-
advance. It also can mean that gate shields may unreliably tionally defines set load created by the shield. To be success-
advance or be unable to create the intended load into the roof, ful, set load required to stabilize the roof must be less than the
leading to a deterioration of roof control in the headgate or vertical thrust created by the shield at setting. Subsequently,
tailgate. This same principle can leave standing support such the shield must stabilize the roof throughout the time when the
1404 SMe Mining engineering handbook

shearer cuts past it, adding a web depth to the span, and ulti- 2. Longwall roof supports
mately as adjacent shields are lowered away from the roof as 3. Rubble material of the gob
they are advanced. Loads also arise from face deterioration and
The area depicted in Figure 13.8-4 graphically shows
span enlargement to the degree that it occurs in response to
the region of rock that must be stabilized by the roof supports
development of front-abutment loads from web to web. If the
(shields). In consideration of the loading process described, it
shield resists this load and the roof remains stable, the result is
is evident that the loading of longwall roof supports has little
the end-cycle load required to support the ground. In concept,
impact from mining depth. It also becomes evident that overly-
this should be at or below the yield capacity of the shield.
ing roof materials that cave as small particles from thin lay-
This yield load is calculated in a manner similar to that
ers can lead to smaller caving heights before particle rotation
of set load, except that instead of system setting pressure, the
is diminished and consequently to lower shield loads and thus
opening pressure for the leg yield valve must be considered.
lower shield capacity requirements. Conversely, thicker and
With set load and yield load independently defined, it is pos-
stronger overlying beds can impose much larger loads on roof
sible to create some of the popularly discussed ratios such as
supports, especially if they are close to the mining horizon.
set-to-yield ratio, yield capacity/linear length of face, and set
Another consideration is that stiff roof rocks, typically strong as
or yield capacity/area of supported roof. Although these terms
well, can require high set loads to stabilize them. Further, they
are frequently discussed as design factors, they are, in fact,
can lead to extreme cases of periodic weighting, where strong
only outcome statistics to the actual equilibrium that must be
beds can act as cantilevered loads, imposing successively
successfully established. They also have limited comparabil-
greater loads on the roof supports until the cantilever fails. Such
ity over a range of possible operating heights, because only
strong beds can be multiple within the caving horizon and cause
the vertical component of the leg load primarily contributes
superimposed effects of periodic loading. Figure 13.8-5 shows
to roof stability. The horizontal force component is mostly
an example of how this variation might look for an example
resolved within the shield by the lemniscates links.
longwall application (Barczak and Garson 1986). Wind blasts
Because the interaction of the roof and the roof support
originating in the gob often coincide with the caving of thick,
(shield) has been described, and the need for stability is clear,
strong beds, or the first cave of a new longwall panel.
the factors leading to loads arising from the roof must be char-
In some instances a cantilevered bed failure results in the
acterized. Roof loads on shields increase with increasing dis-
release of stored energy and in a “bump” or “bounce.” This
tance along the face from either gate road up to a maximum
mining-induced seismicity can be damaging to equipment and
load specific to any site. Distances greater than that effec-
hazardous to personnel. In general, mining-induced seismic-
tively only expand the number of mid-face shields exposed
ity is often associated with strong rock or coal and significant
to that maximum load. It is not prudent or practical to attempt
depth. High overburden stress coupled with mining layouts
to select shields in the design process for any load less than
that may act as stress concentrators can lead to mining-induced
the maximum load experienced for the specific installation.
seismicity originating at elevations ranging from beneath the
Certainly, using outcome statistics or rules-of-thumb to size
mining horizon and extending upward to the surface. High-
shield capacity is poor practice and risks the possibility that
flow yield valves on shield leg cylinders can afford protection
an entire longwall will fail to perform as intended. Should
against equipment damage at moderate convergence rates in
this be the case, available solutions may require premature
a periodic weighting event, but only purpose-designed rock-
equipment replacement or acceptance of undesirable operat-
burst protection can prevent damage to shields during a bump
ing performance.
where a large convergence can occur suddenly.
Evaluating the factors that contribute to roof loading on
Face cross-section factors that affect loads imposed on
the shields, it is clear that both site-specific and face cross-
the shields include
section factors are contributory. Site-specific factors include
• Geometry of the shields, shearer, and AFC;
• Seam thickness (extraction height),
• Depth of cut (web); and
• Near-seam strata (type and thickness),
• Sequence state in cutting cycle.
• Seam and nearby strata material properties,
• Caving behavior of strata, Because of these factors, coupled with geologic variation that
• Seam inclination, takes place on scales smaller than the area mined by a set of
• Natural and mining-induced fractures, and roof supports within their service life or even within the course
• Previous mining above or below the seam. of a panel, it is not surprising that the loads imposed on shields
vary over a range at any installation. Figure 13.8-6 shows the
In concept, the overlying rock collapses into the void cre-
cumulative probability distribution of loads required to stabi-
ated by mining. As the intact material fragments and caves, with
lize the longwall roof.
particles rotating and translating into the void, its volume bulks
These curves can be numerically modeled for a proposed
to fill the void, largely in inverse proportion to particle size.
longwall face cross section and strata section, and are site
This process continues until little enough void space remains
specific for every individual application. Models of this type
between the rubble and the uncaved rock that further displace-
have shown good correlation with data collected from pres-
ment of the overlying rock takes place through particle trans-
sure monitoring on equipment in service. As discussed previ-
lation but with little rotation. Eventually, even the downward
ously, the set load curve is derived independently of the yield
translation reaches equilibrium with the resistance created by
load curve.
the underlying compacted rubble. Thus, the weight of rock
It can be observed that in the region above approximately
overlying the longwall can be supported across three areas:
96% cumulative probability (CP), providing additional sup-
1. Unmined face ahead of the longwall (front-abutment port load into the roof offers diminishing returns. Using this
load) method to select roof support capacity leads to selection of
longwall Mining 1405

O = Rear Overhang W = Depth of Cut

Hs = Seam Height A = Average Caving Angle
Hc = Caving Height F = Failure into Face
Lc = Canopy Length T = Canopy Tip to Face



F W T Lc O A




figure 13.8-4 Conceptual loading model for longwall shield capacity evaluation

Shearer Cutting Past

Adjacent Shield Advance
Shield, Lower Advance Set

Leg Pressure

1 2 3 4 5 6 7

0 Cut Cycles

figure 13.8-5 Periodic weighting behavior of a longwall roof

supports that control loads from the roof in the 91%–96% CP Notably, potential shields for any application should be
range. This leaves a 4%–9% incidence of yielding. In most evaluated at different heights (leg cylinder inclinations) to
cases, yielding events will be of brief duration, and equilib- verify that they will be adequate for any mining height condi-
rium will be reached by sharing load onto adjacent shields. tion they may experience in service. Excess debris should not
Selection of capacity in the higher end of the range, 93%–96% be allowed to accumulate on top of the roof canopy or beneath
CP, allows for some deterioration in performance, as equip- the base, as this material can be compacted and may allow
ment ages, without creating performance problems. excess roof convergence and damage to arise before enough
Choice of supports larger in capacity than 96% CP of the support resistance is generated to create equilibrium. This is
roof loads that will arise offers higher cost, greater weight, especially true for strong, stiff roof materials such as compe-
reduced travelway dimensions, and elevated emulsion system tent sandstones near the roof line in some coal mines.
demands with little perceptible benefit. However, because the
probability distribution is nonlinear, selecting capacity much Specific energy of Cutting
below 91% CP leads to an excessive occurrence of shield The productivity of a mechanized cutting process for rock is
yielding and onset of roof damage companion to the more largely a function of the material’s specific energy of cutting,
severe yielding events. which depends on the type of cutting being applied. Shearers
1406 SMe Mining engineering handbook

Cumulative Probability of Loads Imposed

on Shields Proposed for Example Mine
2 × 1,170-ton Shields per Manufacturer Drawing
Recommended Minimum
0.9 Capacity Shield Shield Performance
Performance Lowest Height: Yield
Lowest Height:
0.7 Set
Roof Load: Roof Load:
Cumulative Probability

Setting Yielding 1.0-m Web


0.5 Proposed Shield Performance

at Different Mining Heights, t
Mining Height Yield Load Set Load
0.3 2,540 mm 1,089 828
2,286 mm 1,076 825
0.2 2,032 mm 987 755
Note: Set and yield are vertical components.
0.1 580 MPa set pressure.

300 400 500 600 700 800 900 1,000 1,100 1,200 1,300 1,400
Minimum Vertical Load (metric tons) at Expected Mining Height
for Mid-Face Shields (worst case)

figure 13.8-6 example of site-specific stochastic longwall roof-loading evaluation

are different from drum-type continuous miners, which are yet Specific energy of cutting for various materials being cut
different from longwall plows. While shearers and continuous by shearing machines ranges from 0.05 kW·h/t for easily cut
miners work against forces related to compressive strength of coals to 1.3 kW·h/t or more for some very hard cutting sand-
the material being cut, plows primarily work against the ten- stone and igneous dike materials.
sile strength of the material, which is typically much weaker Where very difficult cutting is expected for an extended
than the compressive strength. Particularly with respect to duration, specially designed rock drums are used in lieu of
shearers, the cutter motor power used to produce a resultant normal production drums. These rock drums are designed
quantity of ROM ore over a period of time defines the specific with closer bit spacing and more bits per line in the drum lac-
energy of cutting for the material (kilowatt-hour per metric ton ing to accommodate the heavier cutting demands. The style of
[kW·h/t]). This assumes that the cut material can be cleared so bits may also change between radial and conical cutting bits to
that product accumulation does not impede the process. This offer improved longevity and performance.
measure is useful for the purpose of production process design Typically, high-capacity longwalls operate well when
and management but is not as pure a parameter as the name they encounter materials in the 0.05–0.45 kW·h/t range.
might suggest.
The load applied to the material to be cut can alter this Abrasivity
value and is a benefit for the longwall system. When the front- When considering a longwall mining application, the abrasiv-
abutment load has fully evolved, after the start of mining in ity of the product to be mined and conveyed is of concern. Most
a panel, this load is usually large enough to “soften” the face wear on the AFC and beam stage loader (BSL) is related to the
and reduce the energy required to produce a quantity of mate- tonnage of material that has been conveyed across the systems.
rial. Until the front abutment fully develops, cutting will be As an approximation to the wear that might be expected in a
more difficult than after it exists. The apparent softening can particular application, standardized laboratory tests have been
also be noted as abutment load varies in periodic weighting developed that are also used by the electrical generation indus-
cycles and when production resumes after a stoppage of suf- try, which has similar concerns as mining about abrasive wear
ficient duration to allow significant stress redistribution. to equipment within its facilities. In high-level summary, sac-
The addition of work done by the abutment stress is also rificial blades are rotated through a mass of the rock material
advantageous to creation of a larger product size distribution of interest for a predetermined time. At the end of the test, the
and lower fugitive dust production on a milligram/cubic meter/ weight of material lost by the sacrificial blades is determined
metric ton basis. Interestingly, the cutting bits deeper in the web and reported. This weight loss ranges from only 8 mg Fe in a
do more work and produce a smaller size distribution of prod- trona specimen to more than 1,300 mg Fe in a severely abra-
uct than the bits shallower in the web. This smaller-sized prod- sive coal and sandstone ROM product. Typical values range
uct may be significant in dust production, which can become from 200 to 900 mg Fe, which roughly correlates with wear
airborne. The possibility of improved machine utilization and of 0.5 to 2.5 mm of deck-plate thickness reduction per million
proportionately reduced dust production exists with adoption metric tons of production. Unacknowledged in these values
of increased web depth. In the transition of web depths from are the corrosion processes, which can certainly influence the
0.76 m to as much as 1.07 m, this appears to have been true. outcome in service. Improved results can be achieved by use
longwall Mining 1407

of abrasion-resistant steels where the corrosion environment grant of such a variance are additional controls to safeguard
will not provoke premature failures (Ludema 1996). against the hazards envisioned during statute development.
Often, especially in the United States, three- or even
Mine layouts four-entry developments are used for gate roads. The motiva-
Having identified most of the important site-specific consid- tion for creation of more development length, in total, than is
erations that might have to be addressed by a successful mine minimally required to sustain longwall operation should be
design, the general mine layouts can begin to be discussed. carefully considered. It is ordinarily desirable to minimize the
Historically, advancing and retreating longwall layouts ratio of development costs per longwall metric ton produced.
have been the subject of much discussion worldwide. In the It is also desirable for time value of money considerations to
advancing system, the longwall setup room is close to the associate as closely in time as possible the expenditure of costs
main or submain entry set, and the longwall mines away from that provide future benefits with realization of those benefits.
these entries into undeveloped reserves. In the process, sup- In the pursuit of these principles, it is common for longwalls
port is constructed to constitute one or more gate roads behind to be operated in geometric succession, with the headgate of
the longwall face. Mining continues until a designated extent the prior panel being used as the tailgate of the current panel
is reached or conditions force face recovery. The fact that arti- and so forth, until some predefined extent is reached.
ficial roadways have to be maintained in the gob adds signifi- Often this extent is the aggregation of a group of panels to
cant cost and labor to this technique. As cost and productivity form a district. The number of panels in a district is variable,
benchmarks have evolved across the industry, the elevated typically based on ventilation or geotechnical considerations.
costs and lower productivity of advancing faces have gen- When managing the constraints of a large district eventually
erally seen these operations cease or transition to retreating becomes difficult enough, mine operators prefer the devel-
longwall layouts. Only in unusual circumstances or where his- opment of the incrementally additional gate road, which is
toric precedent dictates are advancing faces operated. At pres- required to develop the first panel in a new retreating long-
ent, all of the world-class longwall installations are retreating wall district. Frequently, districts are sealed upon completion,
faces. This trend can be expected to continue into the future. removing them permanently from the worked and traveled
Retreating longwall layouts may be of two types: conven- portion of the mine. Mine operators are then largely relieved
tional or punch (highwall) type. Figure 13.8-7 shows a con- of the burden to maintain access for inspection and ventila-
ventional retreating longwall layout with a mined-out panel tion of such a sealed district, but access must be maintained
adjacent to the active longwall. The entries of the previous pan- to inspect the final seals where the district meets with active
el’s headgate (main gate) transition into becoming the tailgate mine workings, and the seals themselves must be maintained
for the active face. The active longwall face mines progres- in adequate condition.
sively from the setup room at the far (inby) end of the devel- Accumulations of water, explosive atmospheres, or spon-
oped panel and is eventually recovered as it enters its intended taneous combustion events can be reasons for concern, even
recovery position. The recovery position of the face is shown in sealed and otherwise abandoned areas. Relatively recent
by the line that coincides with the near (outby) extent of the changes to U.S. regulatory requirements for seals and moni-
mined-out panel. Optional recovery chutes may be used to aid toring atmospheres in sealed areas address these concerns.
free equipment recovery. On occasion, it can be necessary to isolate overburden
The punch (highwall) longwall is largely similar, except stress effects between the current longwall panel and the prior
that instead of developing a main or submain entry set from panel with a barrier pillar. Where panels are mined at depth
which gate roads are driven, the gate roads are developed with thick, stiff beds in the overlying strata, failure to ade-
directly off a surface-mined box cut or highwall. Punch long- quately support the stiff strata can channel vertical stresses
walling is attractive because it eliminates the need to develop toward the current panel. This elevated stress can result in
and maintain long-term underground workings in the form mining-induced seismic activity in the strata section, with
of mains and submains entries. It also lends itself well to the possible events in excess of 3.5 on the Richter scale. These
transition from surface mining to underground mining that events can be damaging to equipment and hazardous to per-
confronts many mine operators as the depth and production sonnel, particularly when seismic activity originates at or near
costs of remaining reserves increase. the face location. At a lesser scale, stiff coal subjected to large
Gate roads for retreating longwalls are typically formed stresses can fail suddenly and result in the expulsion of mate-
with two- to four-entry developments. Although single-entry rial from the face toward the longwall travelway, creating a
and dual-entry gate roads are common outside the United hazard to personnel.
States, dual-entry gate roads are an exception in the United Longwall gate-road development is characteristically
States. In the interest of worker safety in a fire or explosion “just in time” to avoid delaying production activity on the
emergency, U.S. mining law generally requires a minimum longwall. The degree to which the development is ahead of the
of three-entry developments in coal mines to accommodate needs of the longwall in time is often referred to as float time.
separated intake (fresh air), return (exhaust), and conveyor Some ventilation plans require the next adjacent longwall
belt entries. to be developed in order to implement the ventilation plan.
In cases where it is safer to have a dual-entry development More commonly, this is not the case, and float times are in the
than the statutory minimum of three entries, a variance may be 6-to-50-week range. This allows adequate time to withdraw
granted by regulatory enforcement authorities based on a dem- the development equipment and stage longwall-move sup-
onstrated diminution-of safety-argument. U.S. mine operators plies and equipment prior to the onset of a longwall move.
have succeeded in the diminution-of-safety argument where However, it does not impose unnecessary “hang time” on
adverse geotechnical conditions threaten worse consequences the gate road, as deterioration of conditions can begin soon
than the reduction of number of entries. Companion to the after development in some settings. It also associates the cost
1408 SMe Mining engineering handbook

Four-Entry Development
The coal haulers transport the mined product to a con-
veyor belt for ultimate clearance from the working section. It
is common for the conveyor belt to be equipped with a feeder
breaker. The feeder breaker has a limited amount of surge
capacity, allowing coal haulers to unload quickly, but also
meters product through a breaker and onto the conveyor belt
at rates that optimize belt system performance. This is par-
Three-Entry Development ticularly the case where multiple sections all discharge onto a
shared conveyor belt.
Place-changing operations are typically applied in rela-
Panel Length tively good roof conditions and often have better productiv-
ity than the alternative—in-place continuous miners. These
Two-Entry Development in-place continuous miners, also called bolter miners, install
Headgate Entries roof bolts, mesh, straps, and even roof trusses in parallel
Face with the mining cycle. Thus, roof support is installed close
Length to the face, and the roof has minimal opportunity to deterio-
Tailgate Entries rate before additional support is implemented to augment its
natural integrity. Also, this method minimizes the number of
times that the bolter miner is moved between working places,
Mined-Out Gob thereby minimizing damage to potentially weak floors.
Historically, seriously flawed weight distribution on
bolter miners led to worse floor damage than place-changing
machines, even though machine travel was less. Recognition
figure 13.8-7 fully retreating longwall layout of this problem has allowed it to be mitigated on modern
Aside from mining and bolting, section operations are
of such development in time, closer to the future benefits much the same between in-place and place-changing systems.
expected to arise from it. For many mine operators, the long- Some mine operators use loading machines between bolter
wall move actually starts with emplacement of portions of the miners and the coal haulers. The loading machine allows the
new face prior to completion of mining in the current panel. bolter miner to discharge product into a small surge pile on
Such equipment might include: tailgate gate shields; AFC the floor, behind the bolter miner. The machine loads from
and BSL; a new or rebuilt shearer; electric power and con- this surge pile into coal haulers as they become available and
trol equipment; and emulsion-pumping equipment, controls, decouples the continuous miner from producing and loading
and tank. The amount of equipment preinstalled depends on only when a coal hauler is on station and ready to receive
arrangements specific to any mine operator. In general, shorter product. The use of a loading machine also caters to an often
production outages occur with increased amounts of equip- noted deficit of bolter miners, which is cleanup in-cut.
ment preinstalled in the new longwall panel. As a general principle, bolter miner productivity is less
Gate road development itself is done with continuous min- than place-changing operations when a reasonably long cut,
ers and one of the several face haulage mechanisms available. perhaps greater than 6.0 to 7.5 m, is available. However, if
Figure 13.8-8 shows the general layout of a three-entry gate- cut depth falls below this range or if ground control is unac-
road development section with a continuous miner and bat- ceptable in the cut depth available, a bolter miner system may
tery coal haulers. The section depicted uses a place-changing become the preferred option. Current bolter miners have the
method of operation where a continuous miner mines a cut and ability to sump and bolt simultaneously. This has a notably
then changes places to mine a cut in another entry or crosscut. favorable impact on productivity when compared to earlier
When the continuous miner has withdrawn, a separate machine style bolter miners, which could only cut as much as was
installs roof bolts and possibly wire mesh or roof straps to roof available with the machine frame stationary when drilling and
and rib or roof trusses, if necessary. bolting activities were ongoing.
Roof bolting progresses from where support was installed Additional concerns for gate road design are entry and
on the prior sequential cut in that working place to the face of crosscut span, crosscut angle, and spacing. Gate road entries
the cut. After a cut is fully supported, the roof bolter is with- must serve several purposes, including the following:
drawn and the cut is ready for auxiliary activities that may
• Provide adequate cross section for ventilation
be necessary before the continuous miner returns to make its
• Provide access of personnel and materials
next cut in that working place. As this process is successively
• Transport and installation of longwall equipment
applied to entries and crosscuts, the entry set is advanced.
• Installation of the longwall section conveyor belt
Cuts may range from as little as 3.0 m to more than 12.0 m.
• Temporary locations for emulsion-pumping equipment
In good roof conditions, the cut depth may be limited to the
and electrical power and controls
depth attainable without exposing personnel to unsupported
• Retreat of the longwall in normal operation
roof or airborne contaminants.
Short cuts have a decidedly negative impact on the pro- Standing roof support is restricted to only those areas where
ductivity of place-changing mining methods, as a dispro- it does not obstruct necessary machine travel. In the longwall
portionately great amount of working time is lost to place conveyor belt entry, supplemental support may be installed as
changing. As depicted, ventilation is provided by section a precaution because there is little opportunity to add remedial
fans. support after the belt is commissioned.
longwall Mining 1409


Hauler Roof
Belt Loading
Point Ventilation

Ventilation Fans

figure 13.8-8 Three-entry gate road development with place-change mining

Four distinct regimes of increasing loading are applied decision is also limited by the capabilities of existing equip-
to gate roads, aside from the first and last panels of a district: ment, although capabilities have steadily improved over time.
In subsidence-sensitive areas, wider faces can cause mine
1. Initial development
plans to be offset further from sensitive surface structures and
2. Adjacent to a single longwall gob (headgate)
sterilize additional reserves in the process, a cost weighed
3. Intermediate to adjacent longwall gobs (active tailgate)
against recognized benefits.
4. Longwall gobs on both sides, well behind (inby) the face
As the industry-wide dedication to zero harm redefines
The primary roof-support system controls the ground in the acceptable hazards to ever diminishing severity and frequency,
first and second stages, but supplemental support is commonly a conflicting prospect emerges as mining conditions tend to
applied prior to use as a tailgate for the active longwall. This become increasingly adverse and present increased hazards.
support is typically installed in the immediate tailgate entry The cumulative result is an increased amount, and cost of
and crosscuts before it reaches third-stage loading, and, where development footage required to sustain longwall operations.
practical, it may even be installed at the time of development. Consequently, increased longwall face length is attractive. For
Commonly used materials include wooden cribs (4-point or most site-specific circumstances, an optimum longwall face
9-point), cans, steel props, and pumpable cribs. length can be defined. Often there is a broad optimum in net
The alternative of right-angle intersection of crosscuts present value terms—between 300 m of installed equipment
to main entries versus inclined is a balance of considerations length and up to perhaps 475 m in other cases. Present tech-
between the convenience of access afforded by inclined nology allows face length up to approximately 500 m with
intersections and the propensity of acute-angled corners to high productivity. Common face lengths range from 250 to
deteriorate with consequent enlargement of the intersection 425 m. Achieving maximum lengths implies the use of the
sum-of-diagonals (SoD). Increasing SoD often correlates with largest AFC chains and highest-rated electric motors and AFC
decreased stability of intersections. Floor stability and horizon- gearboxes available.
tal stress direction can influence the optimal intersection design. Longwall panel length is an issue constrained by
The result of entry spacing and crosscut spacing is pillar
• Ventilation system limitations,
size. The correct selection of pillar size for longwall gate roads
• Timing considerations to avoid production outages,
is an involved discussion, beyond the scope of this chapter.
• Longwall equipment longevity,
In general, bigger pillars are more desirable from a stability
• Property constraints, and
perspective, but the unrecoverable reserves lost to gate road
• Reserve extent.
pillars, the increased development footage, and prolonged
development time is not desirable. Long pillars are favorable At some point, excessive ventilation pressure losses and insuf-
to gate road development, but wider pillars are not. This is ficient air quantities dictate a practical limit to the length of a
because development along panel length is useful to the pur- gate road development or may constrain longwall operation.
pose of completing panel development, but distance spent on Alternatively, the time required to complete a long develop-
crosscuts is not. Access to the longwall face for heavy mainte- ment may compare unfavorably with the rate at which an active
nance is enhanced by shorter crosscut spacing. longwall is retreating. Yet another consideration is whether the
longwall equipment can retain the required availability levels
face length and Panel length as it wears through continued service, although durability of
The choice of longwall face length is a balance of the initial the constituent equipment elements of the longwall has been
capital cost committed to acquire longwall equipment versus improving through time. It is not unreasonable to expect shields,
the benefits of improved productivity, production cost savings, AFC drives, and frames to serve through the longest panels.
and additional reserve recovery for a wider longwall face. The AFC sprockets can be reversed or replaced during planned
1410 SMe Mining engineering handbook

maintenance intervals, as can chains, flights, and chain connec- only a few plow-type longwalls compete with shearer-based
tors. Shearing machines have longevity on par with the longest longwalls for the same markets.
panels (highest tonnages) but can also be repaired as subcompo-
nents, or a replacement shearing machine can be implemented Thick Seams
during mining of a panel more readily than undertaking a com- Unlike thin seams, thick-seam longwall has great potential
plete longwall move (panel transfer). With this, contemporary worldwide. Single-pass longwall designs up to 7.25 m high
longwall panels range from 1,850 to 4,600 m in length, with have been proposed with installations more than 6.5 m high in
contained panel tonnages up to 11 million metric tons of coal. service. A variety of issues require adaptation of the designs of
these high installations, including
Thin Seams
• Shearer steering into/out of the face,
Most of the discussion so far has been focused on the most
• Structural integrity of AFC to bear heavy shearers,
common high-productivity longwall variation: single-lift
• Face operator travelways and safety,
longwall in the 1.75- to 3.75-m extraction height range.
• Slab development or persistence,
However, thin ore deposits, typically with higher value, such
• Face spalling ahead of the shield tips,
as coking coals, are of interest. Thin seams are also a topic
• Shield capacity and resulting weight, and
where they overlay other coal seams but must be extracted
• Potential worst-case AFC starting capability.
first to prevent their sterilization by undermining. Historically,
thin coal seams were extracted with low-productivity shear- The production history of many of these installations bears
ing machines and longwall plow systems. Low-seam shear- testimony to the success of designers and mine operators in
ing machines of the past are hopelessly obsolete compared overcoming the numerous challenges arising from thick-seam
to current expectations. Periodic attempts are made to make operation. At any period of time, some of these high faces
low-seam shearers practical, as a number of mining projects appear in the ranks of the world’s most productive longwalls.
worldwide reside at the edge of viability and would be suc- Interest is intensifying in longwall extraction of even
cessful if only better productivity were available. Shearers in thicker seams than 7.25 m, but there is an accompanying
low seams are constrained by factors such as recognition that single-pass longwall is not the solution. To
extract very thick coal seams, the longwall top coal caving
• Motor size (diameter and power),
(LTCC) technique is being developed. Two major variations of
• Vane depth of drums and loading performance,
the LTCC method exist. In one, the face cross section is much
• Clearance (shearer tunnel and ranging arm),
like a conventional shearer-based system with a single AFC.
• Length and height limits (traversing undulations), and
An original pass is made as customary, at a convenient height,
• Operator ability to travel at tram speed of the shearer.
and then a special purpose caving chute integrated into the
While efforts continue to solve the low-seam shearer issues, shield canopy is lowered so that material caving from above
progress has been made in the modernization of longwall plow the shield is channeled into the AFC. When product quality or
systems. Figure 13.8-9 shows a longwall plow. Instead of cut- caving conditions dictate, the chute is retracted, and successive
ting the coal with a shearer, the coal is cut by a plow body cap- chutes are opened along the face. The process is repeated until
tivated on the AFC and drawn from gate to gate on a dedicated the majority of the available product has been drawn. At this
chain driven by motors on each face end. Since the plow cuts point, additional undercutting is conducted with the shearer in
only a fraction of the web of a shearing machine, normally 100 preparation for successive drawing of caved material.
to 140 mm but up to 250 mm on the highest-capacity instal- Alternatively, another technique of LTCC uses an AFC,
lations, multiple transits of the face are required to achieve both ahead of the shields as expected but also behind them
equivalent production to one pass with a shearer. In contrast, under a powered flipper used to allow or preclude caved coal
the plow speed may be more than 10 times that of typical low- introduction onto the rear AFC. Figure 13.8-10 shows a typi-
seam shearers, so plows offer attractive potential in deposits cal installation in cross section.
too low for shearers, provided that conditions are favorable Potential exists for more new LTCC installations world-
(Gluckauf GmbH 1985). wide than the total number of modern high-productivity long-
Favorable conditions for a plow-type longwall include walls currently in service in North America. Today, LTCC
installations exist in China and Eastern Europe with consid-
• Strong, continuous roof and floor rock;
erable expansion of the technique possible there, as well as
• Ore that plows readily and parts cleanly from roof and
significant prospects for introduction to Australia and possibly
even the Americas. The LTCC technique could require adapta-
• Ore horizon with little thickness variation and limited
tion to conform to statutory requirements in countries where
undulations; and
the technique has not previously been practiced.
• Ore free of intrusions, faults, or dikes.
Roof falls in the tailgate or on the face can be serious obstacles Multiseam longwall
to a plow. Replacement of a significant section of the extracted On occasion thick seams are extracted by single-lift longwall
horizon with sandstone through faulting or washout can be operations conducted in a coordinated sequence, with the
equally problematic. upper longwall progressing ahead of the lower longwall in an
The history of plow-type longwalls is extensive in interlocked sequence. Though this method has examples in the
Europe, where almost every conceivable condition has been field, coordinated operation of independent longwalls can be
confronted by plowing, but not always to successful outcomes difficult. Thin interburden is more problematic than thicker
in modern terms. The seam conditions that make plow applica- interburden, as are joints or fractures that transect the interval
tion attractive in a modern context are limited compared to the between the seams. Thin or low-shear-strength interburden,
totality of potential low-seam reserves worldwide. At present, as well as jointed interburden, can transmit stress between
longwall Mining 1411

Normal Air

Explosive Zone

Prod positio
uced ns
from That Ca
Met n
han not Be

e an
d Ai
15 r
tio In

Oxygen, %
au er
C at
10 Inerti ou
zatio tN
figure 13.8-9 longwall plow n by
Nitro itr
gen In og
jectio en

Inert Gob Atmosphere

0 5 10 15 20 25 30
Methane, %

Courtesy of Joy Mining Machinery.

figure 13.8-10 Top coal caving with rear AfC figure 13.8-11 Coward’s triangle

mining horizons more directly than horizons separated by explosive compositions. The inert mixtures will not explode if
even a modest thickness of strong, stiff interburden. High exposed to a potential ignition source and occur as fuel-lean or
stresses are often transmitted from one horizon to another fuel-rich compositions with respect to the explosible composi-
where strong structures surrounded by high-extraction work- tions. The explosible compositions exist within Coward’s tri-
ings in one horizon are approached by workings in the other angle shown in the approximately 5%–15% methane range and
horizon. In general, multiseam operations are more focused approximately 12%–21% oxygen range. The zone depicted
on extraction of independent seams at appreciably separated around the triangle is an arbitrary safety margin. This physi-
intervals of interburden and time. Often the earlier workings cal behavior of methane and air mixtures being an absolute
are not executed with anticipation of modern longwall mining principal, two approaches to avoid the explosion hazard exist.
in the future, thus making mine planning an exercise in miti- One is to provide fresh air to dilute methane to a fuel-lean state.
gating interseam interactions. If such a state can be maintained without fail, it renders an
acceptably safe condition. Paramount to this strategy is that
longwall ventilation the fuel-lean (oxygen-rich) atmosphere cannot transition from
Ventilation of longwall mining systems seems to exhibit a respirable state, required where people work and travel, to a
nearly endless variety in the exact details of worldwide plans fuel-rich (oxygen-deficient) state, which is likely to occur in
(AusIMM 1986; Kennedy 1999). Taken at a broader level, the unventilated gob. Where the respirable mine atmosphere
longwall ventilation falls into two general categories with very transitions to an unventilated gob atmosphere, particularly
different mechanisms (MSHA 1996). To introduce these prin- after mine workings are sealed, it becomes impossible to guar-
ciples, some basic attributes of methane and air mixtures should antee that the reducing oxygen level and increasing methane
be clearly understood. Figure 13.8-11 shows Coward’s triangle level will not cross through the region of explosible composi-
(Coward and Jones 1952). Other representations of the explo- tions without active intervention. This case is described by the
sion hazard are popular in various locations around the world, upper trajectory line in Figure 13.8-11. If even a small energy
but the chemistry and physics of the matter are universal. Thus, source above the intrinsic safety threshold is available to ignite
other representations describe the same physical behavior. the explosive composition, a violent event will result in pro-
Two principal regions are represented in Figure 13.8-11. portion to the volume of gas mixture ignited (SIMTARS 2001).
The upper portion of the figure describes compositions that can- If coal dust becomes airborne secondary to a typical methane
not be formed from methane and air and is therefore irrelevant. explosion, a much more energetic and violent event can arise
Below these naturally impossible compositions of methane and (Burrows 1989). This mechanism has repeated itself many
air is the region of naturally possible mixtures. These possible times worldwide, often with disastrous outcomes. Application
mixtures include two major subdivisions: inert mixtures and of incombustible dust (rock dust or stone dust) to areas where
1412 SMe Mining engineering handbook


Air in at Panel Mouth and
B Air Out at Panel Bleeder





Intake Air
Return Air
B Belt

figure 13.8-12 Typical flow-through bleeder system

coal dust can accumulate is effective in mitigating this dust The notable differences between the bleederless and
explosibility hazard. bleeder ventilation systems are that in the bleederless system
An alternative mitigation strategy for the explosion haz- seals are built in headgate crosscuts immediately inby the face
ard involves the deliberate exclusion of oxygen from gob in order to progressively seal the gob and exclude oxygen
atmospheres, followed with forced inertization if necessary to as the longwall retreats. If concerns exist about atmospheric
depress oxygen levels below those where an explosion hazard compositions in the gob or if oxygen invasion could stimu-
can exist, regardless of methane concentration. This is repre- late spontaneous combustion, the added feature of forced
sented by the lower trajectory line in Figure 13.8-11, which is inertization, as discussed previously, can be an effective risk-
actively controlled by inert gas injection and never crosses the mitigation strategy. Gases such as nitrogen, CO2, or even
region of explosion hazard, Coward’s triangle. Periodic atmo- oxygen-depleted air can be used for safely inertizing mine
spheric monitoring, followed by application of the inertization atmospheres. The exhaust gas from combustion processes,
process as necessary, can prevent explosible methane–oxygen such as gas turbine engines, can potentially be a source of
compositions from being created by already inert atmospheres oxygen-depleted gas mixtures for inertization.
where introduction of new oxygen is possible. To prevent oxygen inflow into sensitive gobs, pressure
With this in mind, the two major strategies of longwall balancing is often applied to minimize pressure differentials
ventilation are bleeder and bleederless ventilation systems. A across seal lines and minimize introduction of new oxygen to
conceptual flow-through bleeder longwall ventilation system a gob. An alternative technique is the use of balance cham-
is shown in Figure 13.8-12. bers, as depicted in Figure 13.8-14. In this method an initial
In this system, fresh (intake) air is supplied through the seal is built to separate the atmospheres, and then another seal
headgate entries and splits at the headgate to ventilate the is built outby the initial seal, becoming primary. Inertization
longwall face. An adequate volume is allowed to flow behind gas delivery pipes penetrate both seals to allow inert gas deliv-
(inby) the face at the headgate to ventilate the perimeter of ery to the sealed area and the space between the seals. If the
the gob. Along the face and at the tailgate, air is allowed to seals have reasonable integrity, the space between the seals
“bleed” into the gob and tailgate to ventilate the methane to can be elevated to a low positive pressure, and the small leak-
fuel-lean levels. This is the most common ventilation system age volume that occurs is either into the gob, the mine airway,
used in the United States. It is notable that because atmo- or both. The net effect is to prevent oxygen ingress into the
spheric compositions are uncertain where they cannot be sealed area at low total inert gas expenditure. Sudden change
monitored and controlled in the bleeder-ventilated gob inby in inertization gas consumption can be an early indication of
the longwall and in the adjacent abandoned gobs, any poten- deterioration in seal performance.
tially persistent ignition source such as spontaneous combus- A valuable tool to monitor the composition of mine
tion or intermittent source of ignition energy such as lightning atmospheres in critical areas is a tube-bundle system. With
is reason for concern. this equipment, atmospheric samples are drawn from critical
The major alternative to bleeder ventilation of longwalls locations underground through dedicated individual tubes to
is bleederless ventilation. The bleederless longwall ventilation analysis equipment located at the mine surface. This allows
system is depicted in Figure 13.8-13. sampling of areas where electrical sensors might be prohibited
longwall Mining 1413


Seals Built as Longwall Retreats





Sealed Gob


Intake Air
Return Air
B Belt

figure 13.8-13 Bleederless longwall ventilation

Nitrogen Injection
Pipes and Valves
Tube Bundle Sampling
4-in. Pipe System Extends Well Inby Perforated Pipe
Perforated Pipe

Manual Flow Balance Chamber

Meter Assembly

Perforated Pipe

Nitrogen Leakage
Fresh Air Pressurized Gob
Nitrogen Leakage

Nitrogen Inertized Nitrogen Inertized

Atmosphere Atmosphere

figure 13.8-14 inertized balance chamber

and sampling continuation in the event that electrical power is location of GVBs is typically along the periphery of a panel,
removed, as is the case in many mine emergencies. where void space is connected to workings at seam level, when
An addition to the controls inherent in either of the ven- the intention is to control barometric expansion volumes, as in
tilation systems described, gob ventilation boreholes (GVBs) bleederless ventilation systems.
can be used to assist the ventilation system by extracting gob Diurnal barometric pressure variation occurs daily, with
atmosphere, predominantly methane, before it enters the ven- the barometer falling as the atmosphere warms with duration
tilation system. GVBs are often centrally located in a longwall and intensity of solar exposure and rises as night falls when
panel when the intention is to intercept methane evolved from the atmosphere cools and air density increases. Random baro-
broken strata before it enters a bleeder ventilation system. metric pressure variations are related to weather systems. The
These holes, drilled from the surface in advance of mining, are actual barometric pressure is a function of both effects and can
often spaced at larger intervals than GVBs intended to control be predicted for a surface location with good overall accuracy.
expansion volumes in a bleederless ventilation system. The Operation of GVBs in response to barometric pressure variation,
1414 SMe Mining engineering handbook

alternating with inert gas injection, can control evolved methane is now more feasible than ever, with the demonstration and
and prevent oxygen invasion into progressively sealed gobs, as introduction of personal dust monitors. Seemingly, the opti-
in bleederless systems, or other sealed areas. mum solution to the problem of dust exposure would apply the
Although GVBs are typically drilled vertically from the best available technologies, crediting the benefits in realistic
surface, an alternative method applies medium radius drilling terms, to create incentive for continued progress in longwall
technology to postmining methane drainage. The wells start technology.
with a vertical collar followed by a build section where the Another issue of modern underground mining is related
well is steered to a horizontal position. The horizontal lateral to surface subsidence. The most damaging aspect of mining-
is located in a stable horizon above the longwall panel. Holes induced subsidence is the zone that connects undisturbed
up to 1.6 km in length, producing approximately 1 m3/s of surface with areas subjected to near maximum vertical dis-
methane, have been achieved. placement. This boundary varies from a few meters to a few
An alternative to GVBs drilled from the surface is an hundred meters wide and commonly wraps around the perim-
array of cross-measure boreholes drilled at upward inclination eter of the subsided area. The condition is exaggerated when
from the seam horizon. Such cross-measure holes can drain subsidence takes place years after active mining and may con-
methane prior to mining and be used later to a similar effect tinue for a protracted period of time. It is also worsened when
as GVBs when caving behind the retreating longwall opens small land areas are subsided, a few hectares per instance,
a communication between the holes and the larger gob. Gas leading to a greater proportion of subsided land area being
captured by the holes can be collected by an underground pip- subjected to the most damaging end outcome (Kratzsch 1983;
ing system and directed to a borehole to the surface without SAIMM 1982). These situations, often acting in combination,
entering the mine ventilation system. make compensation for damage to surface assets difficult,
Horizontal boreholes, originating in-seam or turning into because the mine operators may no longer have a corporate
the seam from vertical wells to the surface, can be progressed presence or the ability to pay for reparations years or even
in-seam for more than 1 km to drain methane in advance of decades after the fact (Peng 1992).
mining. These holes have proven to be highly effective for The development of longwall mining has brought relief to
methane drainage but must be planned carefully, as they can these concerns. As modern longwall panels have gotten wider
later present hazards that must be mitigated before mining and longer, the proportion of subsided land area permanently
progresses through them. subjected to the most damaging boundary conditions has
decreased. Also, unlike the subsidence of smaller individual
ConTeMPoRARy iSSueS areas, the subsidence develops to its maximum level in close
Improving the health and safety of miners by reducing their alignment with predictions and generally does so in a period
exposure to hazards has been a major motivation in the steady of weeks to months after active mining by longwall methods.
progress of mining mechanization. Longwall mining as it Thus, all stakeholders are in a better position, both in terms
exists today is the product of this ceaseless effort. Greater pro- of damage and timing, to make such reparations as may be
ductivity and resource recovery are realized, while the inci- appropriate.
dence of injuries and accidents continues to decline as a trend. Longwall mining has been extensively applied to urban
Few would dispute that longwall mining is, by far, the safest and suburban areas in Germany, Poland, and the United
and most efficient underground soft-rock mining method. Kingdom to mine under a tremendous variety of structures,
Although many concerns have been addressed with great including public buildings and residences, industrial facili-
success, others have persisted. Coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, ties, roads, bridges, railroads, pipelines, and power lines, to
more commonly called “black lung,” is a chronic disease which successful outcomes. Longwall mining has also been used
investigators have correlated to respirable dust exposure in the worldwide to mine under rivers, lakes, and oceans success-
coal industry. Black lung is often debilitating in its advanced fully. With the worldwide knowledge base for mitigation of
phase and may lead to death. Most coal-producing countries subsidence damage to surface structures, many alternatives
worldwide acknowledge this hazard and have occupational can often be applied to minimize damage to surface assets or
health limits for respirable coal dust exposure intended to repair them effectively.
prevent workers from contracting the disease. Not all dust is As longwall mining transitions from rural to suburban
deemed hazardous but only the submicrometer (<10-µm size areas in the United States and Australia, it has vocal critics.
particles) fraction of dust is believed to contribute to black The arguments put forward derive from many origins but gen-
lung. Because longwall mining results in large production, it erally do not suggest a better method to extract the resource
is not surprising that increased amounts of dust can also result, but rather oppose the extraction all together or dispute the
with respirable dust being a fraction of the total. value of the damages that might be created or the ability to
Depending on the regulatory strategy applied, this can bring about acceptable reparations.
lead to different conclusions. One strategy is based on envi-
ronmental exposure. This assumes that a worker will not ben- ConCluSion
efit from any personal protective equipment and that safety When longwall systems are properly selected and operated, the
is produced only by maintaining environmental levels below results can be spectacular and sustainable. These installations
disease thresholds. This strategy does not give innovation or make longwall mining look easy. In reality, successful selec-
technology an opportunity to contribute solutions unless it tion and operation of longwall systems are based on attention
impacts the environmental exposure as opposed to the respira- to detail and a commitment to continuous improvement. These
tory exposure. However, personal protective equipment such pursuits require much effort and rely on a capable staff as much
as airstream helmets offers demonstrated effectiveness, and as the equipment composing a longwall mining system.
automation technology has the potential to remove workers Success also depends on a close collaboration between
from most dust exposure. Personal dust exposure management mine operators and technology suppliers, often as a strategic
longwall Mining 1415

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