Longwall mining
Longwall mining is a form of underground coal mining
Coal mining
The goal of coal mining is to obtain coal from the ground. Coal is valued for its energy content, and since the 1880s has been widely used to generate electricity. Steel and cement industries use coal as a fuel for extraction of iron from iron ore and for cement production. In the United States,...

 where a long wall of coal is mined in a single slice (typically 1–2 m thick). The longwall panel (the block of coal that is being mined) is typically 3–4 km long and 250–400 m wide.


The basic idea of longwall mining was developed in England in the late 17th century. Miners would undercut the coal along the width of the coal face, removing coal as it fell, and using wooden props to control the fall of the roof behind the face. this was known as the Shropshire
Shropshire is a county in the West Midlands region of England. For Eurostat purposes, the county is a NUTS 3 region and is one of four counties or unitary districts that comprise the "Shropshire and Staffordshire" NUTS 2 region. It borders Wales to the west...

of mining. While the technology has changed considerably, the basic idea remains the same, to remove essentially all of the coal from a broad coal face and allow the roof and overlying rock to collapse into the void behind, while maintaining a safe working space along the face for the miners.

Starting around 1900, mechanization was applied to this method. By 1940, some referred to longwall mining as "the conveyor method" of mining, after the most prominent piece of machinery involved. Unlike earlier longwall mining, the use of a conveyor belt
Conveyor belt
A conveyor belt consists of two or more pulleys, with a continuous loop of material - the conveyor belt - that rotates about them. One or both of the pulleys are powered, moving the belt and the material on the belt forward. The powered pulley is called the drive pulley while the unpowered pulley...

 parallel to the coal face forced the face to be developed along a straight line. The only other machinery used was an electric cutter to undercut the coal face and electric drills for blasting to drop the face. Once dropped, manual labor was used to load coal onto the conveyor parallel to the face and to place wooden roof props to control the fall of the roof.

Such low-technology longwall mines continued in operation into the 1970s. The best known example was the New Gladstone Mine near Centerville, Iowa
Centerville, Iowa
Centerville is a city in and the county seat of Appanoose County, Iowa, United States. The population was 5,528 in the 2010 census, a decline from 5,924 in the 2000 census. After the turn of the 20th century Centerville had a booming coal mining industry that attracted many European immigrants...

 "one of the last advancing longwall mines in the United States". This longwall mine did not even use a conveyor belt, but relied on ponies to haul coal tubs from the face to the slope
Slope mining
Slope mining is a method of accessing valuable geological material, such as coal. A sloping access shaft travels downwards towards the coal seam. Slope mines differ from shaft and drift mines, which access resources by tunneling straight down or horizontally, respectively.In slope mining, an angled...

 where a hoist hauled the tubs to the surface.

Longwall mining has been extensively used as the final stage in mining old room and pillar
Room and pillar
Room and pillar is a mining system in which the mined material is extracted across a horizontal plane while leaving "pillars" of untouched material to support the roof overburden leaving open areas or "rooms" underground...

 mines. In this context, longwall mining can be classified as a form of retreat mining
Retreat mining
Retreat mining is a term used to reference the final phase of an underground mining technique known as room and pillar mining. This involves excavating a room or chamber while leaving behind pillars of material for support. This excavation is carried out in a pattern advancing away from the...



Gate roads are driven to the back of each panel before longwall mining begins. The gate road along one side of the block is called the maingate or headgate; the road on the other side is called the tailgate. Where the thickness of the coal allows, these gate roads have been previously developed by continuous miner units, as the longwall itself is not capable of the initial development. In thinner seams the advancing longwall mining method may be used. In this system the gate roads are formed as the coal face advances.

Only the maingate road is formed in advance of the face. The tailgate road is formed behind the coal face by removing the stone above coal height to form a roadway that is high enough to travel in. The end of the block that includes the longwall equipment is called the face. The other end of the block is usually one of the main travel roads of the mine. The cavity behind the longwall is called the goaf, goff or gob.


Fresh air travels up the main gate, across the face, and then down the tail gate. Once past the face the air is no longer fresh air, but return air carrying away coal dust
Coal dust
Coal dust is a fine powdered form of coal, which is created by the crushing, grinding, or pulverizing of coal. Because of the brittle nature of coal, coal dust can be created during mining, transportation, or by mechanically handling coal.-Explosions:...

 and mine gases such as methane, carbon dioxide, depending on the geology of the coal. Return air is extracted by ventilation fans mounted on the surface. A series of seals are erected as mining progresses to maintain goaf gas levels.

Typically to avoid coal in the goaf spontaneously combusting, goaf gases are allowed to build up so as to exclude oxygen from the goafed area. This means that there is an explosive goaf fringe between the face and the goaf at all times requiring constant monitoring.


A number of hydraulic jacks, called powered roof supports, chocks or shields, which are typically 1.75 m wide and placed in a long line, side by side for up to 400 m in length in order to support the roof of the coalface. An individual chock can weigh 30–40 tonnes, extend to a maximum cutting height of up to 6 m and have yield rating of 1000–1250 tonnes each, and hydraulically advance itself 1 m at a time.
The coal is cut from the coalface by a machine called the shearer (power loader). This machine can weigh 75–120 tonnes typically and comprises a main body, housing the electrical functions, the tractive motive units to move the shearer along the coalface and pumping units (to power both hydraulic and water functions). At either end of the main body are fitted the ranging arms which can be ranged vertically up down by means of hydraulic rams, and onto which are mounted the shearer cutting drums which are fitted 40–60 cutting picks. Within the ranging arms are housed very powerful electric motors (typically up to 850 kW) which transfer their power through a series of lay gears within the body the arms to the drum mounting locations at the extreme ends of the ranging arms where the cutting drums are. The cutting drums are rotated at a speed of 20–50 revs/min to cut the mineral from coal seam.
The shearer is carried along the length of the face on the armoured face conveyor (AFC); using a chain-less haulage system, which resembles a ruggedised rack and pinion
Rack and pinion
A rack and pinion is a type of linear actuator that comprises a pair of gears which convert rotational motion into linear motion. A circular gear called "the pinion" engages teeth on a linear "gear" bar called "the rack"; rotational motion applied to the pinion causes the rack to move, thereby...

 system especially developed for mining. Before chainless haulage systems, a heavy duty chain was run the length of the coal face for the shearer to pull itself along. The shearer moves at a speed of 10–30 m/min depending on cutting conditions.

The AFC is placed in front of the powered roof supports, and the shearing action of the rotating drums cutting into the coal seam disintegrates the coal, this being loaded onto the AFC. The coal is removed from the coal face by a scraper chain conveyor
Conveyor chain
A conveyor chain is used for material conveyance under harsh conditions. Like a transmission chain, a conveyor chain consists of bearings that are joined by link plates, the bearings consist of a case-hardened pin and bush to allow a roller to revolve while allowing articulation under high...

 to the main gate. Here it is loaded onto a network of conveyor belts for transport to the surface. At the main gate the coal is usually reduced in size in a crusher, and loaded onto the first conveyor belt by the beam stage loader (BSL).

As the shearer removes the coal, the AFC is snaked over behind the shearer and the powered roof supports move forward into the newly created cavity. As mining progresses and the entire longwall progresses through the seam, the goaf increases. This goaf collapses under the weight of the overlying strata. The strata approximately 2.5 times the thickness of the coal seam removed collapses and the beds above settle onto the collapsed goaf. This collapsing can lower surface height, causing problems like changing the course of rivers and severely damage building foundations.

Comparison with room and pillar method

Longwall and room and pillar methods of mining can both be used for mining suitable underground coal seams. Longwall has better resource recovery (about 80% compared with about 60% for room and pillar
Room and pillar
Room and pillar is a mining system in which the mined material is extracted across a horizontal plane while leaving "pillars" of untouched material to support the roof overburden leaving open areas or "rooms" underground...

 method, fewer roof support consumables are needed, higher volume coal clearance systems, minimal manual handling and safety of the miners is enhanced by the fact that they are always under the hydraulic roof supports when they are extracting coal.


Subsidence is the motion of a surface as it shifts downward relative to a datum such as sea-level. The opposite of subsidence is uplift, which results in an increase in elevation...

 is largely immediate, allowing for better planning and more accountability by the mining company. There have been cases of surface subsidence altering the landscape above the mines. At Newstan Colliery in New South Wales
New South Wales
New South Wales is a state of :Australia, located in the east of the country. It is bordered by Queensland, Victoria and South Australia to the north, south and west respectively. To the east, the state is bordered by the Tasman Sea, which forms part of the Pacific Ocean. New South Wales...

, Australia "the surface has dropped by as much as five metres in places" above a multi level mine. In some cases the subsidence causes damage to natural features such as drainage to water courses or man-made structures such as roads and buildings. "Douglas Park Drive was closed for four weeks because longwall panels ... destabilised the road. In 2000, the State Government stopped mining when it came within 600 metres from the twin bridges. A year later there were reports of 40-centimetre gaps appearing in the road, and the bridge had to be jacked sideways to realign it." p. 2

A 2005 geotechnical report commissioned by the NSW
New South Wales
New South Wales is a state of :Australia, located in the east of the country. It is bordered by Queensland, Victoria and South Australia to the north, south and west respectively. To the east, the state is bordered by the Tasman Sea, which forms part of the Pacific Ocean. New South Wales...

Roads and Traffic Authority
The Roads and Traffic Authority is a former New South Wales government agency that was responsible for major road infrastructure, licensing of drivers, and registration of motor vehicles. The RTA directly managed State roads and provided funding to local councils for regional and local roads...

warns that "subsidence could happen suddenly and occur over many years".

External links

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