Ventilation & Dust Control in Tunnel Construction

Grydale Ventilation Design Services

Grydale has extensive experience in tunnel ventilation design. Our engineering team are able to prepare a comprehensive design to control air quality in accordance with regulations and site requirements.

Air flow, control of dust and diesel particulates contamination, power consumption and noise abatement are all key areas that are taken into consideration along with being able to make recommendations for in-tunnel environmental monitoring systems.

For tunnel construction projects, our approach to the design of ventilation plans is to work with project teams to:

  • Prepare a high-level comparison of ventilation options, providing advantages and disadvantages of each approach.
  • Recommend and present the most favourable ventilation option.
  • Collect data to prepare a systems level specification and concept design.
  • Undertake detailed design for each phase of construction, prepare and present a design documentation pack, including sub plans for TBM breakthrough, each station / portal, station interconnections, excavation shafts, cross passages and M&E fit outs. The design outlines the specification of equipment required, how the equipment is to be used and the ventilation requirements to manage site contaminants.
  • Provide project management and engineering support and updated plans if site conditions or requirements change during construction.

Ventilation Design Methodologies

There are many types of ventilation design and dust control systems and as each tunnel is unique so is each ventilation design and dust control solution. Each ventilation system has limitations in terms of dust control, with the selection of the system being dependent on geology, climate, tunnel dimensions, location / site access, construction method and sequence, targets to be achieved, cost of materials and ease of maintenance.

Ventilation Design Tools

We use a range of numerical simulation tools to prepare the design, including:

  • VentsimTM DESIGN 5 for ventilation design and simulation.
  • Autodesk CFD for three-dimensional ventilation design and simulation.
  • Autodesk Inventor for mechanical/structural design, if required.
  • Verification by model review, structural simulation, or hand calculations as appropriate.

The Importance of Ventilation and Dust Control

A critical aspect of any tunnel construction is ventilation design and dust control, so that workers exposure to fumes and dust are reduced to safe, acceptable levels.

Silica or silicon dioxide is a naturally occurring and widely abundant mineral that forms a major component of most rocks and soils. Crystalline silica dust is the biggest risk to construction workers after asbestos as dust particles can penetrate deep into the lungs. Heavy and prolonged exposure to RCS can cause lung cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other serious respiratory diseases. Silicosis usually follows exposure to RCS over many years, but extremely high exposures can cause acute silicosis more quickly.

New health and safety regulations specifically relating to the control of respirable crystalline silica (RCS), have been introduced to bring it into line with asbestos. Many countries are now halving the workplace exposure limit (WEL) for RCS for an 8-hour time weighted average from 0.1mg/m3 to 0.05mg/m3.

Due to the high production volume and enclosed workspace, workers in underground operations have a higher risk of dust exposure. Management of dust within tunnel construction usually requires a hierarchy of control measures to be implemented including the use of dust scrubber (dust collector) and providing ventilation at the face through brattice wings or ducting.

Calculating Air Volume Required

There are three main factors affecting the typical volume of air flow required within the tunnel during construction works. These factors all combine to determine what capacity of the ventilation / dust extraction system is required.

Air Flow

Forced Ventilation Systems

Forced Ventilation Systems are the most common type of primary ventilation system used in a tunnel under construction. Air moves when there is a difference in pressure between two points until the pressures are balanced. Difference in pressure occurs naturally and can also be created artificially. The pressure inside the tunnel is always higher than the pressure compared to the outside environment. This difference in pressure causes the air from the tunnel to exhaust into the outside atmosphere. (Air flows from a higher pressure point to a lower pressure point.)

With forced ventilation, fresh air exits at the inbye end of the tunnel via the bag and collects the contaminants as it moves towards the opening of the tunnel. In this type of system, outbye areas normally have higher level of contaminants.

Forced ventilation system

This type of system is cheap to install and is typically used during shaft development where there are space constraints prohibiting installation of a scrubber system. However, there are typically high levels of contamination and dust exposure within tunnel and in exhaust areas, especially where no scrubbers are present.

Overlap Ventilation Systems

In Overlap Ventilation Systems air is pushed into the tunnel using a fan and a dust scrubber is overlapped with the ventilation outlet. Negative pressure is used to pull air through the tunnel and two air flows are created within the tunnel. As air flows need to be balanced (to avoid dusting out of the tunnel) it is critical when using this system to have a ventilation design that works with the construction sequence. An Overlap Ventilation System is normally deployed in the extraction face of a roadheader tunnel and is best suited for long road / rail tunnels and is less effective in short drives / confined spaces.

Overlap Ventilation System
Extract Ventilation System

Extract Ventilation Systems

An Extract Ventilation System is where air is drawn through the tunnel from the outside atmosphere and is exhausted via ducting to a scrubber to deliver clean air to the atmosphere. Air inflow needs to balance with air exhaust volume. Scrubbers can be located within station boxes, where louvres balance airflow into the tunnel or within the shaft.

Sometimes full extract systems are perceived as being an expensive ventilation system design as capital is outlaid at the start of the project. This is not the case in short tunnels where they can be installed as permanent solutions for the duration of the project. The ability for Grydale Dust Scrubbers to be turned up / down also reduces their operational cost significantly. Constantly renewing clean air into the tunnel at minimum air flow plus treating dirty air before it is introduced to the atmosphere through a single contained duct are additional benefits.

  • Full extract ventilation systems provide the following advantages:
  • Reduced risk of contact with contaminants at the tunnel face.
  • Reduced risk of contaminated air mixing with the surrounding tunnel air.
  • Leakage occurs into the ductwork only.
  • Dust scrubbers can be located with other dust generation works.
  • Reduced noise pollution into the tunnel and reduced at the surface by attenuation through silencer and ducting.
Air Extraction Ventilation System

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