Stench Gas is a mine alert system designed to suit noisy environments where audible alarms may not be heard. During an emergency, the distinct and recognisable odour is rapidly dispersed through the ventilation system, prompting personnel to head to a safe area.
What is Stench Gas and is it flammable?
Underground mines, in particular, hard rock mining, rely on a series of sensory alarm systems to warn miners in the event of an emergency, including visual, audible and olfactory.
MineARC Stench Gas cylinders are loaded with Ethyl Mercaptan, pressurised with a non-flammable gas and further pressurised with nitrogen. A standard one-litre cylinder of MineARC Stench Gas contains 100g of Ethyl Mercaptan and can be distributed efficiently through approximately 620,000 cubic metres of air in an underground mine, operating within a temperature range of 1°C to 54°C.
Table 1.0 MineARC Stench Gas Ratio
The critical element within stench gas is Ethyl Mercaptan, also known as Ethanethiol; clear and colourless with an overpoweringly pungent smell similar to garlic and decaying cabbage. Ethyl Mercaptan is classified as flammable and can be toxic if swallowed or inhaled in large quantities.
When added to an odourless gas, Ethyl Mercaptan is propelled through large volumes of mine air. Due to its nature, it is easily detected and recognised even in small quantities. As the vapours are heavier than air, the gas solution descends creating a lingering effect.
Ethyl Mercaptan (Ethanethiol, Thioethyl alcohol)
- Formula: C2H5SH
- Molecular Weight: 62.13 g/mol
- Specific Gravity: 0.839 (H20=1)
- Vapor density: 2.14 (Air = 1)
Table 2.0 Ethyl Mercaptan
|Odor threshold||0.6ppb or 0.0006ppm|
|Ideal concentrating at release||0.1-2 ppm1|
|TWA (8 hour)||0.5ppm|
1Based on ventilation rates of 50,000-2,000,000cfm (20-1,000m3/s) ppm = (grams / m3) x (24.46/62.13)
How Can Stench Gas Be Non-Flammable?
Pure Ethyl Mercaptan is classed as a flammable product. The lower flammability limit (LFL) in the air of Ethyl Mercaptan is 2.8% by volume, and upper flammability limit (UFL) in the air of Ethyl Mercaptan is 18.2% by volume.
The flammable properties of Ethyl Mercaptan within the stench gas cylinders is altered due to the incorporation of the non-flammable material – Tetrafluorethane. Combining Tetrafluorethane within the cylinders prevents flammable levels from being formed; hence the end product at the point of dispersion is not flammable.
MineARC Stench Gas is tested using the internationally recognised standard verification method for testing concentration limits of the flammability of chemicals in the air; ASTM method E-681.*
In testing, concentrations of the MineARC Stench Gas solution were mixed with varying concentrations of oxygen levels to determine if there is a percentage by volume that will create a flammable mixture. Independent bodies conducted the testing using the ASTM method E-681, concentrations of the solutions to air, as well as oxygen levels in the air, were modified in various scenarios, however, no flammable concentration was discovered.**
Although the MineARC Stench Gas system is classified as non-flammable, Ethyl Mercaptan is a hazardous chemical stored under pressure, and as such, all precautions need to be taken in the handling and transportation of stench gas cylinders.
It is important to note that as solutions can separate over time, to ensure the stench gas is safe and effective, there is a two-year shelf life on the gas cylinders from date of manufacture.
MineARC Systems Stench Gas complies with the Australian Government Regulation 4.37 in the guidelines set down in ‘Emergency Preparedness for Underground Fires in Metalliferous Mines’ developed and approved by the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety, as well as the Mines Occupational Safety and Health Advisory Board (Australia).
“Flammable materials or explosives not to be stored near mine openings
The manager of an underground mine must ensure that flammable liquids, flammable materials or explosives are not stored within 50 metres of any entrance to the mine. Penalty: See regulation 17.1.”
Design of Stench Gas Systems in Hard Rock Mining
Stench gas is a practical and far-reaching alert system; due to the enclosed nature of mines, internal ventilation, and ability to work independently from underground communication systems such as radios or lighting.
MineARC Stench Gas Units contain three main components, in a manual and electric format:
- Stench Gas: A malodorous gas, which is used to identify risk and provide an olfactory warning to personnel where visual and audible alerts may not be adequate.
- Anti-Stench: A chemical neutraliser, used following the activation of stench gas to counteract the odour and flush out vent lines.
- Wintergreen: A more pleasant smelling gas commonly used as an “all-clear” signal, indicating that the mine and personnel can leave the safe area and return to work or the surface.
Incorporating a complete stench gas system requires custom calculations to determine the best placement of the units for proper dispersion. Areas such as ventilation junctions or inlet fans are ideal as they assist in the urgent dispersion of the stench gas. Ventilation managers are an essential part of stench gas discussions and placement due to the unique nature of each mine, its ventilation system, and their in-depth knowledge.
Two main criteria need to be met by the system, volume and velocity of ventilation air.
- Volume: The quantity of stench gas required in order to remain detectable, must at least match the volume of air in the mine, for example, two cylinders will be detectable across approximately 1.25 million cubic metres of air.
- Velocity: The momentum of air required to ensure adequate deployment times are achieved. An example scenario; a 3000m mine with personnel at bottom and stench gas is located at the portal.
Assume mine air in the decline is moving at a rate of 0.5 m/sec
3000 m / 0.5 m/sec = 6000 sec
A total of 100 minutes to reach personnel at the bottom of a mine is an unacceptable rate.
Inject directly into ventilation system at a rate of 20 m/sec
3000 m / 20 m/sec = 150 sec
A total of 2.5 minutes to reach personnel at the bottom of a mine is the better option as response time is much quicker.
Further to this, the size and complexity of a mine will influence the number of stench gas units required.
Stench gas is a universal alert system used in underground hard rock mining environments, where specific variables can increase the need for a broad range of alert systems. The chemical composition of MineARC Stench Gas is classified as non-flammable and is suitable to be stored and used throughout the mine as part of an integrated emergency response plan.
*ASTM E681-09(2015), Standard Test Method for Concentration Limits of Flammability of Chemicals (Vapours and Gases), ASTM International, West Conshohocken, PA, 2015
**Southwest Research Institute (research laboratory for design and development of the product application) and Chilworth Technology, Inc. (a global leader in explosion and process safety)