MORGANTOWN - Virginia Tech and West Virginia University are among the first group of winners of research grants for a wide array of mine health and safety issues at the nation's mines.
The Alpha Foundation announced Monday it is awarding the first $10 million of the $48 million it has to spend. Sixteen research proposals won initial approval, and final budgets for them are now being discussed.
Chairman Michael Karmis said the proposals were chosen from a pool of 160, and more will be solicited in the future.
The only non-academic winner in the first round is the United Steelworkers, which will focus on identifying and controlling hazards in metal and non-metal mines.
The other winners are the Colorado School of Mines, Northeastern University, University of California-Berkeley, University of Illinois at Chicago, and the universities of Kentucky, Utah, Pittsburgh, Arizona and Connecticut.
Virginia Tech will work on through-the-earth communication systems and a new risk-management approach to safety, while WVU will work on safety systems at surface mines and mobile equipment technology training.
Jim Dean, director of mining and industrial extension at WVU, said that between 2000 and 2010, nearly 800 underground coal miners were injured and 16 were killed in accidents involving shuttle cars and scoops. Most occurred because the operator was unaware someone was nearby.
Cameras and proximity detectors can help reduce accidents, Dean said, but without proper training, operators may have the tendency to rely too heavily on the technology.