28 September 2022
by Alex Brinded

Drones to protect coal storage sites

An autonomous robotic inspection system is being developed for coal waste storage facilities.

high drone
© Alessio Soggetti / unsplash

The drones will be used to spot leakages and failures so that tailings and coal ash can be prevented from being released into the environment.

Tailings are left after extracting coal and stored above-ground behind earthen dams, while coal ash is one of the largest US supplies of industrial waste, containing metals that never biodegrade.

An intelligent drone is being developed by Western Virginia University to autonomously create thermal and visual images and high-resolution, three-dimensional maps of the storage facility, which will permit the detection of cracks, deformities and other structural hazards.

A second objective is to create and equip the drones with software to detect potential hazards. They will collect and use 3D point clouds, where laser scanners can help create highly accurate 3D models.

The funding from the US Department of Energy will allow four students from Western Virginia to work on this project.

'“I'm originally from Minas Gerais state in Brazil, where catastrophic accidents with tailing dams happened recently, so the project has a special motivation for me,' says researcher Guilherme Pereira Pereira.


Alex Brinded

Staff Writer