Cover: Barriers to the Commercialization and Adoption of New Underground Coal Mining Technologies in the United States

Barriers to the Commercialization and Adoption of New Underground Coal Mining Technologies in the United States

Published Nov 1, 2023

by Tom LaTourrette, Liam Regan, Kristin Van Abel

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Research Questions

  1. What are the barriers to commercial availability and implementation of safety and health protection technology in U.S. underground coal mines from the perspective of the organizations that purchase, use, approve, and manufacture these safety technologies?
  2. How should the barriers be prioritized in terms of their merit for attention?

The Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act (MINER Act) of 2006 charged the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) with expediting the development and commercial availability of new safety technologies for underground coal mining. NIOSH has facilitated the development of numerous new technologies but has observed that the commercialization and widespread adoption of technologies face formidable barriers. This report presents results of a project characterizing barriers to the development, commercialization, and adoption of new technologies for use in underground coal mining in the United States.

The authors of this report interviewed representatives of a sample of organizations that have a stake in the U.S. underground coal mining market and held a workshop with selected stakeholders to refine and prioritize the barriers and to identify solutions to them. Through the interviews, the authors identified and characterized 24 barriers falling into three groups (economic, regulatory, and other) and several subgroups within each group. The workshop prioritized barriers according to perceived frequency of occurrence and magnitude of impact.

The individual barriers span a variety of specific issues. Most barriers have the effect of dissuading suppliers from developing new technologies, updating existing technologies, or even entering or remaining in the underground coal mining market at all. Solutions proposed in the workshop centered on streamlining the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) approval process, modernizing MSHA standards, increasing stakeholder interaction in efforts to update mining technology and the associated regulatory regime, and increasing federal support for mining technology.

Key Findings

  • The majority of 24 barriers are related to regulatory issues (62 percent), followed by economic issues (25 percent).
  • The eight highest-priority barriers, as determined by stakeholder perceptions of frequency of occurrence and magnitude, consist of seven regulatory barriers and one economic barrier.
  • Economic barriers may be the most challenging to address, as they are inherently linked to the global energy economy and energy policy.
  • Addressing the regulatory barriers would involve more-localized efforts and fewer stakeholders. In particular, addressing regulatory barriers would necessarily require substantial involvement by MSHA.
  • The most commonly cited barrier—the duration of technology approval dissuades developers—was cited in 29 of the 75 interviews.
  • The highest-priority barriers and proposed solutions focus primarily on modernizing and harmonizing MSHA's standards and approval process with best practices used in other countries.

Research conducted by

This research was sponsored by the Mining Program of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and conducted in the Community Health and Environmental Policy Program within RAND Social and Economic Well-Being.

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