Mining Program Area: Breathing Air Supplies
The Office of Mine Safety and Health Research (OMSHR) has launched a program to develop the next generation of Breathing Air Supplies (BAS) for use in escape, rescue, and shelter during a mine emergency. Some examples of BAS are Self-Contained Self-Rescuers (SCSRs), Closed-Circuit Oxygen Breathing Apparatus (CCBAs), and gas supplies for refuge alternatives. The MINER Act mandated that work be done to improve “oxygen supplies,” and advanced BAS technology could improve a mine worker’s chances of surviving a mine disaster.
The program seeks to answer the following questions: Can new technology be developed to improve BAS in underground mine environments? Can technology in other areas (e.g., space program, underwater life support technologies) be used to improve BAS in underground mine environments?
OMSHR has engaged on a Breathing Air Partnership with representatives from industry, labor, and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). Through this partnership, OMSHR has been able to coordinate with all stakeholder groups regarding the many complexities associated with advancing breathing air supply technologies. These range from projected regulatory and performance standards concerns to the lack of a single commercial entity capable of advancing this technology through a simple contract. Therefore, OMSHR’s approach is to use a multifaceted development effort coordinating interagency agreements (e.g., NASA, Naval Research Labs) and contracts with various commercial entities that specialize in this field to address the critical design issues for improving BAS. A unique feature of this approach is to identify and target sub-components for necessary improvements in breathing air technology and direct development/ fabrication for future integration into different BAS products/ systems. By incorporating input from experienced agencies that have specialized in providing life support for humans working in irrespirable atmospheres for decades and by directing experienced contractors on single sub-components with specific guidelines for its design, OMSHR believes the ultimate result will capitalize on the maximum benefit from all existing relevant technologies and will be vastly improved from past attempts to advance breathing air technologies in underground mines.
This development effort is expected to take 3 to 5 years and result in technology demonstrations incorporating improvements in BAS products and systems for manufacturers to reference when launching the next generation of BAS.