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Depillaring of Coal and Mine Roof Supports

Conference Paper · October 2012

DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.1.4202.2485


1 8,192

3 authors:

Koushik Pandit Ajay Chourasia

Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee Central Building Research Institute


Sriman Bhattacharyya
IIT Kharagpur (Present: CSIR-Central Building Research Institute, Roorkee)


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Koushik Pandit1, Ajay Chourasia 2 and Prof. S. K. Bhattacharyya 3

M.Tech Student, CSIR-CBRI,

Principal Scientist, CSIR-CBRI,

Director, Central Building Research Institute (CSIR-CBRI),


Modern and efficient coal mining facilities exploit superior control methods and large-scale
mechanisation for rock/coal excavation to attain best possible productivity. Coal pillars of
substantially large dimensions are left out in coal mines to support the huge burden of the overlying
strata. In India, more than 3000 million ton of coal reserve is locked up in the form of coal pillars.
Varying geo-mining conditions make it extremely difficult to extract more than 30% of the total coal
reserve by room-and-pillar (also known as bord-and-pillar) method, which is again the most popular
method adopted in India. In fact, these reasons lead to huge loss of coal, their spontaneous heating,
accumulation of poisonous gases and formation of unsafe working environment. Ground subsidence
on account of inappropriate mining practices endangers existing population nearby the surface. The
obvious solution seems to optimize the dimensions of these pillars and retreat the coal by further de-
pillaring or to devise artificial support system in lieu of these inherent pillars, by using roof bolting
system, cable bolts and truss system etc. This paper attempts to compile most relevant and recent
advancements or approaches being adopted world-over. The paper outlines – a brief discussion on
coal extraction scenario, empirical and analytical design practices prevalent since last century, recent
focus on numerical and physical modelling of stress distribution problems, probable location and
types of artificial supports in practice.

Keywords: Bord and pillar mining, depillaring, pillar loading, pillar strength, artificial roof supports.


Coal at present has a share of around 30% as a source of primary energy and 41% of global electricity
generation. Coal use is forecasted to rise over 50% by the year 2030, with developing countries
responsible for 97% of this increase, primarily to meet improved electrification rates (Source: World
Coal Association). Coal can be extracted from open-pit or surface mines and underground mines.
Again bord and pillar mining contributes over 90% of the present underground coal production in
India and the trend is likely to continue in near future too (Maiti J. et al., 2006). However,
productivity and safety in Indian underground mines are much below the desired level. Due to some
geo-mining constraints, only 30-35% recovery of coal is made possible by using bord-and-pillar
method (Singh Rajendra et al., 2008).

Room and pillar are the two basic initial structures for underground mining of coal. Under varying
thicknesses of overlying strata, each of these two structures may face limiting situations where
problems related with their instability become critical. Extreme situations may arise due to the
presence of inadequate thickness of hard strata over an excavation at shallow depth of cover, under
which the probability of collapse of the entire rock-mass column up to the surface is high leading to
severe surface damage or due to high in-situ overburden stress at deeper cover, because the value of
vertical stress over a pillar increases with increase in depth of cover (Fig. 1).
Fig. 1: Variation of in-situ vertical stress with depth cover (after Hoek & Brown, 1980)

Large numbers of coal seams have extensively been developed by formation of pillars to meet the
increasing demand of coal in the country. It is now reported that around 3000 MT of coal reserve is
locked in pillars under varying geo-mining conditions (Dixit M.P. et al., 2010). Now, the industry is
looking towards this huge amount of locked-up coal in the pillars. Hence, with the rapid depletion in
coal reserve, and at the same time due to increasing demand of coal, it has become necessary to
extract residue coal present in the form of coal pillars from closed/abandoned coal mines.


India‘s energy domain comprises both non-renewable (coal, lignite, petroleum and natural gas) and
renewable energy sources (wind, solar, small hydro, biogases etc.). Coal is the largest source of non-
renewable energy in India. Till records, the estimated reserve of coal was around 286 billion tones.
Coal production in India during the year 2010-11 was 533 MTs. The estimated total consumption of
raw coal by industry has increased from 71.2 MTs during 1970-71 to 592.99 MTs during 2010-11
(Source: Energy Statistics 2012, Government of India Report).

For roof stability concern, coal pillars are critically treated. If the pillar dimensions are increased, the
strength or load carrying capacity of it also increases, but more quantity of coal remains as locked-up
pillars and therefore, productivity of the mining operations in terms of recovery of coal and cost of
excavation is hampered (Oraee Kazem et al., 2008). As per Regulation 99 of Coal Mines Regulation,
1957, India it is stipulated that the width of galleries shall not exceed 4.8 m and the height of the
galleries shall not exceed 3 m. From the guidelines, we get an idea about pillar dimensions, e.g. for
depth of cover not exceeding 60 m, and for gallery width of 4.8 m, minimum pillar size is kept as
almost 15 m, incurring huge loss of coal in terms of extraction.


Underground excavations disturb the equilibrium state of the strata, resulting in setting up of different
forces and redistribution of stresses to establish a new equilibrium state at a lower energy level; along
with lateral movements and changes in slope in surface beds. Initially the beds bend downward which
temporarily frees weight of the beds above and this overburden load above the roadways/galleries in
the excavated mine is transferred to the sides of the excavation, resulting in the formation of ―pressure
arch‖ (Fig. 2), within which a zone of relieved stress exists (Poulsen B.A., 2010). When an opening is
made, the stresses shift outward on both sides of pillar, leaving a de-stressed zone, in the shape of an
arch, around the pillar. The exact shape and size of the arch depends on the stress levels, age and
shape/size of opening, and strata properties. Subsidence occurs when the arch reaches the surface. The
de-stressed area inside the arch is called intradosal ground, while the area outside is called extradosal
ground. The stratum at the fringe of the intradosal ground gets compressed as part of the vertical
stress is transferred to the abutments. The height of the intradosal ground is about 2-4 times the width
of the extraction. For large excavations, the height is limited to 200 times the excavation height.
Regions where pillars are being exploited can be thought of as large excavations (Nayak Ram
Chandra, 2010). A disadvantage of this theory is that due to a lack of a quantitative estimate of the
pressure arch profile, it is difficult to design for (how would you estimate what the intradosal pressure
on the roof of an opening is if you do not know where the arch begins). As mentioned earlier, an
aspect of the pressure arch theory is subsidence. When an excavation exceeds a certain width, the
pressure arch can reach all the way to the surface causing subsidence.

Fig. 2: The pressure arch theory (Source: Bieniawski, Z. T., 1984)

Generally coal seams are weak in strength, and excavations are done over a large area, which
enhances chances of collapse of overlying strata. The lateral compressive forces acting along the roof
compels the immediate roof to bend, thus causing bed separation and subsidence. This subsidence in
bord and pillar workings doesn‘t follow a regular pattern and occurs at unexpected times. This
happens due to pillars or stocks left in the goaf, which hinder regular settlement.


As per Jeremic (1985), the mechanics of stress redistribution during underground coal extraction is
related to the method of coal extraction in addition to other geo-mining parameters. Some
assumptions are made for computing the pressure on pillars:

a. Any element of the ground at a depth ‗h‘, below the surface is subjected to a pressure P0 ,
which depends on the weight of the overlying rock mass, i.e., P0 = γ.h, where, γ = weight per
unit volume of the overlying rock mass.
b. Each pillar supports the volume of the rock over an area which is the sum of the cross-
sectional area of the pillar plus a portion of the bord area, the later being equally shared by all
the pillars.
c. The load is vertical only and is uniformly distributed over the cross-sectional area of the

According to tributary area concept, a pillar takes the weight of overlying rock up to a distance of half
the opening width surrounding it. In Fig. 3, WO and WP are widths of the opening and pillar
respectively, while LP is the length of the pillar. For square pillars, WP = LP. Shaded portion represents
the tributary area shared by an individual pillar.
Fig. 3: The tributary area pillar loading concept (Source: Bieniawski, Z. T., 1984)

The load on the pillar, P, is, therefore,

P = (LP+W0) * (WP+W0)*γ.h,

And the stress on the pillar σp is:

σp = P/Area of pillar = (LP+W0) * (WP+W0)*γ.h / (LP * WP) = (LP+W0) * (WP+W0)*σv / (LP * WP),
where σv is the vertical stress.

In general, tributary area method is used to estimate the value of mining induced stress around a
symmetrical excavation with low percentage of extraction. The scope of the tributary area method
ends with high percentage of extraction and roof strata failure (Singh A.K. et al., 2011).

Calculation of the actual load on a pillar during different stages of mining is rather more complex than
the determination of the pillar strength. Pillar stress may be calculated from the beam theory,
numerical methods, or other techniques, but is most commonly estimated by the tributary area theory
(Mark C., 1999) and is expressed as a multiplier based on the extraction ratio of the in-situ vertical
stress, which in turn is a function of an average overburden density. Pillar stress can be estimated by
(Salamon MDG, 1967) as,

Pillar stress = ρgH / (1-e),

Where H=depth of cover, e is the extraction ratio between zero (no extraction) and one (100%
extraction), ρ = mass density of overlying rock mass.

The original work of Salamon & Munro (1967) calculates the loading on square pillars of width w,
bord width B and depth of mining H with tributary area theory as,

Pillar stress = ρgH [(w+B)/w]2

Sheorey & Singh (1974) suggested the concept of beam deflection for the estimation of average pillar
stress. The method is mainly for narrow workings, where loads are transferred on to the pillars due to
deflections of the overburden strata.

From literature survey, we get to know some analytical models, which are mostly based on longwall
mining and give an estimation of the value and range of mining induced stress over pillars during
underground coal mining.

Considering an infinite, elastic, isotropic and homogeneous nature of coal measure formations,
Salamon (1964) derived following analytical equation for stress distribution at the edge of a longwall
σh(x) = 𝑥𝑞
2 2
(for x>L), where σh = total stress, L = half
𝑥 −𝐿
width of the panel, x = distance from the centre of the panel and q = virgin in-situ stress, which is
given as q = γH, H is the depth of cover and γ is unit weight of the overburden.
Poulsen (2010) considered Load Transfer Distance (LTD) concept in bord and pillar mining for
estimating the lateral extent of the base to the pressure arch between pillars (Abel, 1988). LTD is
defined as the maximum distance; any stress can be laterally transferred and is determined by
measuring the maximum distance that any effect of mining can be detected. Within the LTD, the
stress can be shed between pillars. Relationships were developed to determine the value of LTD in
terms of depth of cover (H) after statistical analysis of 55 measurements (Abel JJF., 1988) done in flat
lying sedimentary deposits and is given as,

LTD = 1 X 10-4 H2 + 0.2701*H (m)

Considering this LTD concept, Poulsen (2010) established following expression for estimating the
average pillar stress in the lateral zone of influence (ZI), if excavation of area (ae) is made in the
pillar‘s zone of influence:

Average pillar stress = ρgHπ * (2*LTD + We/2)2 / [π*(2*LTD+We/2)2-ae],

Where We is the effective width of pillar, ρ is the average density of roof rock mass and g is the
acceleration due to gravity. Poulsen (2010) established following expression between ZI and We:

ZI = 2*LTD + We/2 (m)

This is an important approach for automation of pillar load estimation, but LTD remains valid for
symmetrical extraction and may not be suitable for a caving depillaring face.


The design of mine pillars has received considerable attention over the past several decades. The
numerical design methods are by far the most precise from a mathematical viewpoint. However, the
development of the numerical models and their computations is generally quite expensive and must be
repeated if the size, shape, height, or geologic conditions, (i.e., roof and floor strata, etc.), of the mine
pillars change significantly. As a result of these problems, practical mine pillar design still relies
primarily on the local experience or precedent and empirical design equations.

Most pillar design equations, although differing slightly in form, have two basic components in
common. These are a size-strength effect and a shape-strength effect component to each equation.
The small specimens on which laboratory tests are done, do not contain all the weaknesses (i.e.,
discontinuities like micro-fractures, cleats, bedding planes, partings, shears and small faults) which
coal pillars will normally have. Hence, attempts have been made to determine in-situ strength of coal
on large blocks. Some important empirical relations are mentioned below in chronological order to
trace the trend of research and development in this domain.

Table 1. List of empirical formula for coal pillar strength determination

Author(s) Year Developed Empirical Formula

Baushinger 1878 σP/σC = 0.778 + 0.222 (w/h)
Bunting 1911 σP/σ1 = 0.70 + 0.30 (w/h)
Zern 1928 σP/σC = (w/h)0.5
Holland & Gaddy 1964 σP/σC = (w/D)0.5 * h
Salamon & Munro 1967 σP/σC = w0.46/h0.66
Bieniawski 1968 σP/σC = 0.645 + 0.355 (w/h)
σP/σC = [0.64 + 0.36 (w/h)]α ,
Bieniawski 1981
here α = 1.4 for (w/h) > 5 and α = 1.0 for (w/h) < 5
σP (in Pa)= exp[2.49*ln(RQD) - 2.06] × 6894.7,
Bogert 1995
where RQD = Rock Quality Designation
Salamon et al. 1998 σP/σC = 7.2 * w0.46/h0.66
Oraee, K. & Hosseini, N. 2007 σP/σC = (D/12)0.5 * (w0.46/h0.66)
Here σP is the pillar strength, σ1 is the uniaxial compressive strength of a cubical specimen, w and h
are width and height of pillar, respectively, σC is the uniaxial compressive strength of intact coal, and
D is the cube size dimension of specimen. All the units are as per F.P.S. system.

In Indian context, Sheorey, (1992) suggested an empirical relationship to estimate pillar strength,
which is given as:

S = 0.27 * σc * h-0.36 * (H/250+1)*(We/h-1) MPa,

where, S is strength of pillar, σc is uniaxial compressive strength of one inch cube of coal sample
(MPa), h is extraction height or working height (m), H is depth of cover (m) and We is effective pillar
width (m). We is calculated as per We = 4 AP / C P (Wagner H., 1980), where AP is area of pillar =
L1*L2, Cp is perimeter of the pillar (corner to corner) = 2*(L1+L2), L1=length of pillar and L2=width of


The majority of coal pillars are at present designed by using empirical formulae to determine their
strength. However, these can give misleading results in complex geo-mechanical environments and
for pillars that are not square in plan section (Fama ME et al., 1995).

Numerical models can incorporate the effects of differing geological media, joints, parting planes,
complex geometries and in-situ stresses, but they are limited by the need for realistic estimates of a
large number of in-situ material properties that are difficult to determine.

Table 2. Progress in numerical analysis for coal pillar design

Author(s) Year Findings and/or Recommendations

For pillars of (w/h)>10, impact of slip along the roof & floor interfaces should
Iannacchione 1990
be incorporated in pillar strength calculations.
1992 Used elasto-plastic finite difference models, such as FLAC (Cundall & Bord,
Gale & Mills & 1988) to identify yield mechanisms in coal pillars & strata above it. Their
1994 study led to site specific pillar design guidelines.
Developed a program, named LAMODEL, which uses back analysis to
Heasley &
1996 calibrate the model rock properties from empirical formula. This eliminates
requirement of difficult laboratory testing for data acquisition.
Introduced effect of interaction between the pillars and surrounding rock strata
Gale 1998
with time elapsed.
Presented a new numerical method, based on Ground Reaction Curve (GRC),
which can determine the elastic and plastic behaviour phases of pillar,
2008 depending on (w/h) ratio. Moreover, for each phase, a dedicated equation was
Kazem et al.
presented. With measurement of coal pillar horizontal strain, and by using
these new equations, the coal pillar strength was calculated accurately.
Concluded that in room & pillar mining, tensile stress in central roof linearly
decreases along with the increase of lateral pressure coefficient, which is
Ye Haiwang
2011 useful for stope stability. Also found that pillar supporting capacity is reduced
et al.
with the increase of pillar height, which reduces the stability of pillar. Roof‘s
maximum tensile stress increases with the increase of room span.
Concluded from analysis that it is not necessary to have a uniform size of
pillars in the panel if it satisfies the panel stability criteria along with criteria
Jaiswal et al. 2012
of worst scenario. They found that percentage of coal recovery could be
substantially improved with application of hybrid method of partial extraction.

The ratio of a pillar‘s estimated strength to the pillar‘s stress is expressed as the factor of safety (FoS).
The nominal FoS for a pillar‘s design is dependent on the consequence of failure of that pillar. For the
long-term stability of underground structures of a developed coal seam, the value of safety factor of
standing pillars should not be less than 1.5; rather a safety factor value equal to 2 or more is preferable
(Singh Rajendra et al., 2008).


Mining subsidence occurs under the action of gravity on strata, due to withdrawal of their natural
support over a sufficiently large area. Consequences are vertical subsidence, lateral movements,
change in slope at the surface, settlement of surface structures under differential strain. Some theories
have been developed over the years for explaining subsidence events, such as trough theory (Hausse,
1907), vertical & normal theory (Briggs, 1929), dome theory (Young & Stock, 1916; Adler & Sun,
1968), beam or plate theory (Denkhaus, 1964), etc.

In India, a subsidence of 3.2% was found in a bord & pillar working with about 10% coal left in-situ.
But only a subsidence of 0.56% was reported in bord & pillar working with stowing (Kumar et al.,

There are two ways to minimize subsidence due to underground excavations, e.g. by surface
stabilization and/or by underground control methods. In the first method, popular choices are grout
columns, constructing piers within the mine, hydraulic filling or backfilling by sand/crushed stone etc,
fly-ash injection and blasting gallery methods. In underground methods, one way is to adopt
controlled rate of advance in mining by harmonious extraction, the other way is to provide roof


Support is the application of a reactive force to the surface of an excavation and includes techniques
and devices such as timber, fill, shotcrete, wire mesh and steel or concrete sets or liners.
Reinforcement, on the other hand, is a means of conserving or improving the overall rock mass
properties from within the rock mass by techniques such as rock bolts, cable bolts and ground anchors
(Windsor & Thompson, 1993). In order to determine the system of support to be followed, Rock Mass
Rating (RMR) is determined for the immediate roof, say, up to 2 m above gallery height. For this
purpose, generally, the following parameters are considered: Layer thickness, Structural features,
Rock weathering ability, Rock strength, and Ground water seepage. In this context, Coal Mine Roof
Rating (CMRR) was first presented in 1993 by Molinda and Mark. CMRR incorporates Uniaxial
compressive strength (UCS) of the intact rock, Intensity (spacing and persistence) of discontinuities
such as bedding planes and slickenside, Shear strength (cohesion and roughness) of discontinuities,
and Moisture sensitivity of the rock.

Some types of artificial supports in use are:

(a) Timber Supports- very common in Indian coal mines. Strength of these props varies from 60 to
380 KN with maximum deformation at breaking load as 45-80 mm. The average load bearing
capacity (L) of wooden props in tonnes are,
i. L = 47.2*(h/d) for h > 3 m (Sinha et al., 1972)
ii. L = 32.08*(h/d) for 1 m < h < 5 m (Kejriwal, 1981),

Where h & d are the height & diameter of the prop in metre.

Such timber props have higher load carrying capacities when cogs or chocks in form of sawn sleepers
are used. Problems associated with use of timber supports is that these yield very slowly, and the
resistance offered is not uniform, making it difficult to design for a support at face.

(b) Steel Props- basically are of two types, viz. rigid props and yielding props, later ones are further
subdivided as friction props and hydraulic props.
Yielding props yield as the roof weight comes upon them while offering almost constant resistance to
it. This in turn, helps in maintaining sound roof conditions. Whereas, rigid props may cause damage
to the roof or alternatively, they themselves may get buckled and damaged.

(c) Roof Bolts- are used mainly for supporting roadways in bord-and-pillar workings. These can be
used with or without the conventional supports. The primary function served by roof bolting is to hold
the weak rock lumps or thin strata together, and thus increases the effective thickness of roof beam. A
single tensioned rock bolt usually consists of an anchorage, a steel shank, a face plate, a tightening nut
and sometimes a deformable plate. For short term applications, the bolt may be left ungrouted, but for
permanent or long term applications and use in corrosive environments, rock bolts are usually fully
grouted with cement or resin grout for improving both pull-out strength and corrosion resistance.

(d) Cable Bolts- are long, grouted, high tensile strength steel elements used to reinforce rock masses.
They may be used as pre-or post-reinforcement and may be left un-tensioned or be pre- or post-
tensioned. Windsor (2001) defines the following terms associated with cable bolting:

• Wire – a single, solid section element.

• Strand – a set of helically spun wires.
• Cable – an arrangement of wires or strands.
• Tendon – pre-tensioned wires or strand.
• Dowel – un-tensioned wires or strand.

(e) Shotcrete- Shotcrete is pneumatically applied concrete used to provide passive support to the rock
surface. It consists of a mixture of Portland cement, aggregates, water and a range of admixtures such
as accelerators or retarders, plasticisers, micro-silica and reinforcing fibres. Over the last 20 years,
shotcrete has found increasing use in underground mining practice, initially for the support of the
more permanent excavations but now increasingly for the support of stopes and stope accesses
(Brown 1999, Brummer & Swan, 2001). It may also be used as part of the support and reinforcement
system in mild rock burst conditions (Hoek et al., 1995, Kaiser & Tannant, 2001).
The addition of 20–50 mm long and 0.25–0.8 mm diameter deformed steel fibres, or plastic fibres, has
been found to improve the toughness, shock resistance, durability, and shear and flexural strengths of
shotcrete, and to reduce the formation of shrinkage cracks.

(f) Wire Mesh- Chain-link or welded steel mesh is used to restrain small pieces of rock between bolts
or dowels, and to reinforce shotcrete. For the latter application, welded mesh is preferred to chain-link
mesh because of the difficulty of applying shotcrete satisfactorily through the smaller openings in
chain-link mesh.
Ortlepp (1983, 1997) gives a number of examples of the use of mesh and lacing in conjunction with
rock bolts and grouted cables and steel rods to stabilise tunnels in the deep-level gold mines of South

(g) Steel Arches or Steel Sets- Steel arches or steel sets are used where high load-carrying capacity
elements are required to support tunnels or roadways. A wide range of rolled steel sections are
available for this application. Where the rock is well jointed, or becomes fractured after the
excavation is made, the spaces between the sets may be filled with steel mesh, steel or timber lagging,
or steel plates.
Steel sets provide support rather than reinforcement. They cannot be preloaded against the rock face
and their efficacy largely depends on the quality of the blocking provided to transmit loads from the
rock to the steel set. Steel arches are widely used to support roadways in coal mines where they are
often required to sustain quite large deformations. These deformations may be accommodated by
using yielding arches containing elements designed to slip at predetermined loads, or by permitting
the splayed legs of the arches to punch into the floor.

During the development stage in bord-and-pillar mining, about 30-35% of the total coal reserve is
extracted and the remaining reserve could not be extracted due to different constraints like presence of
surface/sub-surface features required to be protected from damage and collapse due to subsidence,
presence of massive and strong overlying strata, lack of proper mining methodology, scarcity of
suitable filling material, environmental issues, etc. As a result, a huge quantity of good quality coal is
locked-up in pillars for many years. These pillars are slowly becoming unapproachable due to a
variety of reasons like increasing time dependent complexity in geotechnical conditions of the pillars.
Hence the research needs remain as,

1. Extraction of locked-up coal from underground mines for better energy resource management
& economic benefit.

2. Presence of different constraints in mines.

3. Reducing risk of hazards from mine fire, formation of noxious gases, surface subsidence and
collapse of overlying roof.

4. Protection & damage control of land and important surface/ sub-surface structures.

The extensive literature survey indicates that no established technology is available globally for
extraction of coal using artificial pillars. Some initial work have been done for different purposes
through construction of artificial pillars, mainly in the field of metal mining, especially for roof
control in breast stoping area. So there is a need to study depillaring techniques in underground coal
mines and to develop artificial support system for the coal mine roof to check surface subsidence.


The authors would like to express their gratitude to the Director, CSIR-CBRI for His kind permission
to publish this paper.


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