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Journal of the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy

On-line version ISSN 2411-9717
Print version ISSN 2225-6253


VAN DER MERWE, J.N.  and  MATHEY, M.. Update of coal pillar strength formulae for South African coal using two methods of analysis. J. S. Afr. Inst. Min. Metall. [online]. 2013, vol.113, n.11, pp.841-847. ISSN 2411-9717.

The pioneers in the field of coal pillar strength in South Africa were M.D.G. Salamon and A.H. Munro, who preferred to use statistical back-analysis of failed and intact pillars to determine the pillar strength, and Z.T. Bieniawski, whose attempt was based on the direct strength determination of coal pillars using specimens of various sizes. At the time when the original statistical analysis was performed, 27 cases of failed pillar workings were considered suitable for inclusion in the database of failed pillars. The databases of failed and stable pillar cases have recently been updated to include cases of pillar failure that occurred in the past few years (Van der Merwe and Mathey, 2013a). The work described in this paper relates to a review of pillar strength formulae using the latest available data and using two different approaches to the analysis. A clear distinction was found between pillar failure in the so-called 'weak coal' areas, comprising the Klip River, Vaal Basin, and Free State coalfields, and the rest of the areas in South Africa. It was not possible to derive satisfactory strength formulae for the 'weak coal' areas using either the maximum likelihood or the overlap reduction technique of analysis. The pillars in these areas tended to fail at much higher safety factors, calculated by using the strength formulae developed for the 'normal coal' areas. It is postulated that the mode of failure may be different in these areas. This distinction reinforces the notion that coals in different areas have different characteristics and that there is scope to develop site-specific strength formulae. However, the scarcity of data for the different areas prohibits the development of reliable formulae at this stage, and therefore the broad distinction of 'weak' and 'normal' coals has to suffice for the present. The updated databases resulted in only slightly different strength formulae for the different approaches to the analysis than were obtained previously. Both the maximum likelihood and the overlap reduction technique resulted in usable formulae. The maximum likelihood technique resulted in a closer grouping around the average safety factor of unity for the failed cases, while the overlap reduction technique resulted in better distinction between cases of failed and stable pillars. For the same pillar geometries, the overlap reduction formula predicted lower strength than the maximum likelihood formula for pillars with width-to-height ratios less than 1.88, and higher strength for pillars with higher width-to-height ratios. Further work is required to review the squat pillar formula in the light of these new formulae, as the transition between the formulae presented here and the squat pillar formula is no longer continuous. In similar vein, the previous work to predict the stable life-span of coal pillars should also be reviewed using the latest available data.

Keywords : coal pillar strength; pillar collapse; safety factor.

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