Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Mining Engineering

First Advisor

Dr. Rick Honaker


Rock dust has been historically applied to mitigate the coal dust explosion in either dry or wet form. Dry rock dust performs best in inerting the potential coal dust explosion due to the greatest dispersive properties. However, it undesirably exposes underground coal miners to respirable dust particles which imposes a severe health danger. Wet dust application is able to significantly reduce the floatable dust particles but another problem associated with caking is predominant. Caking phenomenon is usually used to describe the change of free-flowing bulk solids into agglomerated chunks. Unfortunately, the environmental conditions of an underground mine have the potential to cause caking of the rock dust, especially for wet dust application, which reduces the dispersive characteristics needed for effective explosion mitigation and is also the focus of the present study. Surface modification of rock dust to generate a hydrophobic surface is believed to alleviate the caking problem by allowing instant water drainage and eliminating the formation of water and solid bridges.

Surface modification of rock dust was evaluated in the present study with a series of potential modifying reagents including oleic acid, sodium oleate and stearic acid. The modification efficiency in terms of measured contact angle, zeta potential and dispersibility values was investigated with sodium oleate generating the best modification effect. Dispersants were investigated as well in the present work aiming to further increase the particles dispersibility in addition to the excellent hydrophobization effect generated by sodium oleate. However, dispersibility test results indicated that the adsorption of dispersant and sodium oleate was competitive. The preferential adsorption of dispersants over oleate deteriorated the surface hydrophobicity of particles and the dispersibility was decreased as a result.

As anticipated, dry rock dust always provided the best dispersibility with almost 95% of the dust remaining in suspension at a dispersion time of 30 seconds. The percentage dust dispersion values of sodium oleate treated rock dust was increased to as high as 71% in contrast to 47% of untreated wet rock dust and the explosion potential was correspondingly reduced by almost 83%. The effect of sodium oleate was further studied as a function of reagent concentration to determine the optimum application condition. The dispersibility of rock dust particles was initially increased until the application of 0.1 wt% sodium oleate, after which it slightly decreased up to 0.5 wt% oleate. When the concentration was above 0.5 wt%, the dispersibility of dust particles substantially decreased to a value lower than the value obtained for regular wet dust. The optimum sodium oleate concentration was thus determined at approximately 0.1 by weight of rock dust particles with a corresponding contact angle of around 110 degrees.

The pivotal of rock dust modification efficiency is its long-term stability which can be corroborated by irreversible chemical adsorption rather than the short-term physical adsorption. Therefore, the fundamental adsorption mechanism of sodium oleate on rock dust surface was continuously investigated by means of using surface tension measurements, FTIR, Thermogravimetric, SEM analyses and constructing the species distribution diagram. Based on the surface tension measurements and calculated apparent surface area occupied by per oleate molecule, the monolayer adsorption of oleate on dust surface was proposed with oleate concentration falling between 0.1-0.15 wt% which guarantees the long-term surface modification efficiency. Calcium oleate started precipitating out of bulk solution and depositing on the dust surface when the oleate concentration was above 0.15 wt% which became more predominant under high oleate concentration. Super hydrophobic particles together with nucleated calcium oleate nanoparticles tend to increase particles aggregation significantly through attractive hydrophobic particle-particle interactive force, which renders the particles more agglomerated instead of dispersed.

Systematic and economic evaluation of the wet form rock dusting process in underground coal mine applications was conducted at the end to determine the safety effects, potential benefits and improvement for future implementation. Suggestions for future work were given as well to shed light on the dusting process together with rock dust surface chemistry modification.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)