Document Type

Conference Paper

Publication Date


Publication Details

This conference paper was originally published as Clarkson, F, The Use of Electronic Nose Devices for Coal Self-Heating Detection, in Aziz, N (ed), Coal 2005: Coal Operators' Conference, University of Wollongong & the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, 2005, 209-218.


Electronic noses are being used in the processing industries and in fields such as environmental and occupational hygiene to detect a wide variety of problems from contaminated foods to toxic chemicals in soils. Recently, research has been conducted into the use of these devices for detecting spontaneous combustion in mines with the aim of producing a method for early detection of a developing heating. Gas samples were collected from both Simtars’ 16 m3 large-scale spontaneous combustion reactor and the University of Queensland’s two-metre column. The samples were analysed using an electronic nose. GCMS and HPLC were used to identify some of the components present. A number of issues both from a practical mine situation and a scientific standpoint have been identified that need to be addressed before these devices can be used to detect a developing heating. Aluminised bags routinely used in the mining industry to collect gas samples for analysis of the permanent gases are not suitable for use with electronic nose devices as they have a ‘fingerprint’ from the polymer lining that interferes with the coal heating fingerprint. Tedlar bags used for environmental gas sampling are also unsuitable due to their fingerprint. Gas samples can be collected in glass gas bulbs with aluminium seals and successfully analysed. However the aluminium foil used to seal the bulbs is a restricted item in underground mines. It was also found that the volatile organic fingerprint of the coal heating was extremely weak at temperatures below 130°C. Before a useful application can be developed, further investigation into the chemical species present in the off-gases from Australian coals is required.