Changing The Way Kosovo Mines

This group of Mines seniors took on a senior project evaluating Kosovo's mining industry and identifying ways to improve productivity.

What started as a senior design project could change the way Kosovo develops its country’s power.   

“This is very real-world,” says Andrea Brickey, Ph.D., associate professor in the SD Mines Mining Engineering and Management Department. “This design and plan is going to be shared with the mine management in Kosovo.”

Brickey assigned the senior design project to 10 of her SD Mines mining students after being contacted by a colleague, Hillary Smith, who had recently completed a fellowship in Kosovo with the U.S. State Department. The World Bank had recently backed Kosovo, a country in the Balkans region of Europe, in its plan to build a more efficient power plant. The United States has played a consulting role in helping the country improve its power capacity. With the power plant moving forward thanks to the World Bank backing, the next step was improving the country’s mining operations to feed the plant.

Currently, Kosovo gets 97 percent of its power from one lignite mine called the South Sibovc Coal Mine. These lignite mines are operated by the Kosovo Energy Company (KEK). Unfortunately, the mining technology, equipment and processes being used are outdated. That’s where the senior design team came in.

The team spent the 2017-18 school year analyzing and developing a plan to more efficiently and effectively mine the lignite. On April 26, the team presented its findings to Smith. Those “insights” and recommendations will now be handed over to mining management in Kosovo.

“They did a great job,” Brickey says. “This project has the most opportunity to really benefit an operation. This project is critical to the economy of an entire country.”  

Bobbi Strange, a senior mining engineering and management student on the Kosovo project, said that realization made this senior design project different. “All of us realized this is more meaningful and people might actually use this,” says Strange, who also earned a bachelor’s degree in geological engineering in 2017.

One of the biggest challenges for the team was the soil found in and around the KEK Mines. “They have this thick clay overburden layer that is difficult to handle and stabilize,” Strange says. The team faced the challenge of designing a way to pile the “Silly Putty-like” soil so it wouldn’t slough as fast over time.

Team member Kory Knottnerus, a senior mining engineering and management major from Gillette, Wyo., said nearly half of the design challenge arose from the need to remove 300 million tons of mining debris piled on potential future lignite seams. The team had to design the mines so that while one seam was being freed from the debris, the other could be operating.

Knottnerus admits to spending extra hours in the lab on this project because of its real-world application. The fact that actual miners might be using his recommendations to help power a country really drove home the importance of getting it right. “Because of how real the project is, it had to be perfect,” he says.

The team’s plan could potentially move the efficiency of the mines from 20 to 30 percent now to 60 to 80 percent. Whether Kosovo mine management take all or some of the insights and recommendations from the Mines team remains to be seen, Brickey says.

Brickey, however, doesn’t plan on ending SD Mines’ involvement in this project. Next year’s senior design team will take over the project and continue improving efficiency and effectiveness of the mines. “The next group will pick up where they left off, conduct more analysis, and see if they can take it to the next stage,” she says.

Last edited 6/28/2018 1:04:20 PM

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