Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

100 to 200 cub. ft. per minute should be allowed. In fiery mines, however, a very much larger amount must be provided in order to dilute the gas to the point of safety. Even with the best arrangements a dangerous increase in the amount of gas is not infrequent from the sudden Distribution of air under ground. release of stored-up masses in the coal, which, overpowering the ventilation, produce magazines of explosive material ready for ignition when brought in contact with the flame of a lamp or the blast of a shot. The management of such places, therefore, requires the most constant vigilance on the part of the workmen, especially in the examination of the working places that have been standing empty during the night, in which gas may have accumulated, to see that they are properly cleared before the new shift commences.

The actual conveyance or coursing of the air from the intake to the working faces is effected by splitting or dividing the current at different points in its course, so as to carry it as directly as possible to the places where it is required. In laying out the mine it is customary to drive the levels or roads in pairs, communication being made between them at intervals by cutting through the intermediate pillar; the air then passes along one and returns by the other. As the roads advance other pillars are driven through in the same manner, the passages first made being closed by stoppings of broken rock, or built up with brick and mortar walls, or both. When it is desired to preserve a way from one road or similar class of working to another, double doors placed at sufficient intervals apart to take in one or more trams between them when closed are used, forming a kind of lock or sluice. These are made to shut air-tight against their frames, so as to prevent the air from taking a short cut back to the upcast, while preserving free access between the different districts without following the whole round of the air-ways. The ventilation of ends is effected by means of brattices or temporary partitions of thin boards placed midway in the drift, and extending to within a few feet of the face. The air passes along one side of the brattice, courses round the free end, and returns on the other side. In many cases a light but air-proof cloth, specially made for the purpose, is used instead of wood for brattices, as being more handy and more easily removed. In large mines where the air-ways are numerous and complicated, it often happens that currents travelling in opposite directions are brought together at one point. In these cases it is necessary to cross them. The return air is usually made to pass over the intake by a curved drift carried some distance above in the solid measures, both ways being arched in brickwork, or even in some cases lined with sheet iron so as to ensure a separation not likely to be destroyed in case of an explosion (see figs. 5 and 8). The use of small auxiliary blowing ventilators underground, for carrying air into workings away from the main circuits, which was largely advocated at one time, has lost its popularity, but a useful substitute has been found in the induced draught produced by jets of compressed air or high-pressure water blowing into ejectors. With a jet of 1/200 in. area, a pipe discharging 12/3 gallon of water per minute at 165 lb pressure per sq. in., a circulation of 850 cub. ft. of air per minute was produced at the end of a level, or about five times that obtained from an equal volumne of air at 60 lb pressure. The increased resistance, due to the large extension of workings from single pairs of shafts, the ventilating currents having often to travel several miles to the upcast, has led to great increase in the size and power of ventilating fans, and engines from 250 to 500 H.P. are not uncommonly used for such purposes.

The lighting of underground workings in collieries is closely connected with the subject of ventilation. In many of the smaller pits in the Midland districts of England, and generally in South Staffordshire, the coals are sufficiently free from gas, or rather the gases are not liable to become Lighting. explosive when mixed with air, to allow the use of naked lights, candles being generally used. Oil lamps are employed in many of the Scotch collieries, and are almost universally used in Belgium and other European countries. The buildings near the pit bottom, such as the stables and lamp cabin, and even the main roads for some distance, are often in large collieries lighted with gas brought from the surface, or in some cases the gas given off by the coal is used for the same purpose. Where the gases are fiery, the use of protected lights or safety lamps (q.v.) becomes a necessity.

The nature of the gases evolved by coal when freshly exposed to the atmosphere has been investigated by several chemists, more particularly by Lyon Playfair and Ernst von Meyer. The latter observer found the gases given off by coal from the district of Newcastle and Durham Composition of gas evolved by contain carbonic acid, marsh gas or light carburetted hydrogen (the fire-damp of the miner), oxygen and nitrogen. A later investigation, by J. W. Thomas, of the gases dissolved or occluded in coals from South Wales basin shows them to vary considerably with the class of coal. The results given below, which are selected from a much larger series published in the Journal of the Chemical Society, were obtained by heating samples of the different coals in vacuo for several hours at the temperature of boiling water:—

Quality. Colliery. Volume
per ton
in cub. ft.
Composition in Volumes per cent.
Oxygen. Marsh
Bituminous Cwm Clydach 19.72 5.44 1.05 63.76 29.75
Lantwit 14.34 9.43 2.25 31.95 56.34
Steam Navigation 89.62 13.21 0.49 81.64 4.66
Anthracite Bonville’s Court 198.95 2.62 .. 93.13 4.25

In one instance about 1% of hydride of ethyl was found in the gas from a blower in a pit in the Rhondda district, which was collected in a tube and brought to the surface to be used in lighting the engine-room and pit-bank. The gases from the bituminous house coals of South Wales are comparatively free from marsh gas, as compared with those from the steam coal and anthracite pits. The latter class of coal contains the largest proportion of this dangerous gas, but holds it more tenaciously than do the steam coals, thus rendering the workings comparatively safer. It was found that, of the entire volume of occluded gas in an anthracite, only one-third could be expelled at the temperature of boiling water, and that the whole quantity, amounting to 650 cub. ft. per ton, was only to be driven out by a heat of 300° C. Steam coals being softer and more porous give off enormous volumes of gas from the working face in most of the deep pits, many of which have been the scene of disastrous explosions.

The gases evolved from the sudden outbursts or blowers in coal, which are often given off at a considerable tension, are the most dangerous enemy that the collier has to contend with. They consist almost entirely of marsh gas, with only a small quantity of carbonic acid, usually under 1%, and from 1 to 4% of nitrogen.

Fire-damp when mixed with from four to twelve times its volume of atmospheric air is explosive; but when the proportion is above or below these limits it burns quietly with a pale blue flame.

The danger arising from the presence of coal dust in the air of dry mines, with or without the addition of fire-damp, has, since it was first pointed out by Professor W. Galloway, been made the subject of special inquiries in the principal European countries interested in coal mining; and Coal dust. although certain points are still debatable, the fact is generally admitted as one calling for special precautions. The conclusions arrived at by the royal commission of 1891, which may be taken as generally representative of the views of British colliery engineers, are as follows:—

1. The danger of explosion when gas exists in very small quantities is greatly increased by the presence of coal dust.

2. A gas explosion in a fiery mine may be intensified or indefinitely propagated by the dust raised by the explosion itself.

3. Coal dust alone, without any gas, may cause a dangerous