Research improves air quality underground

(L-R): Professor Damon Honnery, Dr Varun Rao and Dr Daya Dayawansa
(L-R): Professor Damon Honnery, Dr Varun Rao and Dr Daya Dayawansa at Monash Diesel Engine Facility.

Research by three Monash engineers is set to improve the quality of air in underground coal mines in Australia by reducing diesel particulate matter (DPM) released into the air.

Funded through a $275,000 Australian Coal Association Research Program (ACARP) grant, the team used in-house research facilities at Monash Diesel Engine Facility (MDEF) and the Monash Centre for Electron Microscopy (MCEM) to study diesel particulate filters.

In 2012, DPM was ruled a Group 1 carcinogen by the World Health Organisation. Recent studies on diesel exhaust particles have drawn attention to the increased risk of cardiovascular and pulmonary disease caused by exposure to DPM. This is a particular concern in underground mines where the environment is confined.

Dr Varun Rao, Dr Daya Dayawansa and Professor Damon Honnery from the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Monash, found water evaporation due to the high temperatures in diesel exhaust systems, as well as condensation caused by a temperature drop in the diesel particulate filter, caused poor filter life.

Their report, ‘Reducing Diesel Particulate Matter in Underground Mines by Optimising Design and Operation of Diesel Exhaust Systems’, describes how reducing the temperature drop significantly reduced water retention in the filter.

The team proposes to continue working with ACARP to redesign the diesel exhaust system. If successful, they believe this will significantly reduce coal workers’ DPM exposure.

“Given recent research demonstrating the adverse health effects of DPM, it is becoming increasingly important that exposure of workers to this carcinogenic emission is limited,” Dr Rao said.

The team is also working on replacing diesel power in underground coal mines with electric motors, having recently completed a three-year long $600,000 project to develop safe electric personnel transport vehicles to replace the diesel-powered vehicles currently used.

“Electric vehicles are the ultimate solution to the DPM problem, and we envisage that in the long term they will replace the diesel engine for underground use,” Professor Honnery said.