A Norwegian-African cooperative project is currently developing a wireless network of sensors tasked with preventing mine explosions. It’s imperative that a system is developed to detect explosive gases within mines before the chemistry ignites. With lives on the line, SINTEF, the largest independent Scandinavian research organization, and one of its spin-off companies GasSecure, are focused on perfecting a reliable gas-detection system.

The project consists of a communication network that wirelessly transmits and receives signals deep within mines where blasting, excavation, and drilling are consistent occurrences. The sensor network must function in the extreme mining conditions, factoring in high levels of humidity, dirt, dust, and elevated temperatures.

“In the first instance, the system will be used to gather data that can immediately detect a potential explosion hazard in the mine, enabling mine-workers to rapidly receive a warning of danger. The next objective will be to use the data as a basis for on-demand, and thus energy-saving, ventilation in the mine. Quite simply, we want to develop an integrated on-demand ventilation system for mining operations,” says Trond Bakken, project manager of SINTEF Digital.

In a pilot project conducted from 2012 to 2013, preliminary data was uncovered which greatly helps the current research. During that time, a gas sensor produced by SINTEF and GasSecure successfully detected methane, an explosive hydrocarbon gas, on an offshore platform. The early project also proved that an underground wireless communication network was possible, even under the harsh mining conditions.

The current iteration of this project is focused on two main objectives. First, the team aims to develop an additional sensor that will measure temperature, humidity, and air flow. This sensor will work in conjunction with the previously developed gas sensor. The new sensor will help relay to mining operators if the detected gas is dangerous to underground workers.

Furthermore, the researchers will continue to expand and perfect the wireless communication grid. For the miners to benefit from the warning system, all the sensors must be properly linked to create an integrated and fully functional network.

If this project is successful, the team will market the results, expanding this helpful technology to protect the lives of miners in other countries across the globe.