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(Public Law 290), which commissioned the Bureau of Mines to undertake a 5-year, $30,000,000 research and development program to demonstrate and to provide private industry with the “know how" for making synthetic fuels from American coals and oil shales.
With sites chosen and construction under way at the end of the year on three of the four major installations required, research also was in progress in temporary laboratories. Buildings were being erected and equipment installed for a coal research and development laboratory at Bruceton, Pa., an oil-shale demonstration plant near Rifle, Colo., and an oil-shale research and development laboratory at Laramie, Wyo. The announcement of the location of the fourth and final installation-a demonstration plant for the production of oil and gasoline from coal by the hydrogenation and gas synthesis processes—was expected shortly, for detailed information already had been collected and analyzed on 206 proposed sites, in 21 States, including several war plants suitable for conversion. This demonstration plant, which will produce 200 barrels of oil a day by each process as compared to 1 to 2 barrels a day from the preliminary pilot plants, will be designed to incorporate new German developments and ideas obtained in a study made during the year of captured documents and synthetic fuel plants.
At nearby Pittsburgh, a staff of more than 100 persons who will operate the Bruceton, Pa., laboratory is now engaged in fundamental research, process development, and engineering design. Progress has been made in developing an internally cooled converter designed to reduce the steel requirements for each production unit to one-fifth or even one-tenth of that required in the present European equipment. The effects of variables such as catalyst, temperature, and contact time on the primary liquefaction of coal by hydrogenation have been studied, and the experimental hydrogenation unit has been operated on a Bureau-developed process for the production of fuel oil from coal.
At Laramie, Wyo., research also was conducted in temporary quarters to obtain fundamental data needed for the design of experimental and demonstration plants for producing marketable products from oil shale. Among the investigations begun was the so-called thermal solution method in which the oil shale is heated to moderate temperatures (400° C.) in the presence of.a solvent such as shale oil and then extracted with a more volatile solvent.
At Rifle, Colo., construction on the demonstration plant, roads, utilities, and housing was in progress at the close of the fiscal year. The processing section of the plant was designed to have retorts of several types, handling 25 to 100 tons of shale each per day, as well as equipment for refining the shale oil to produce salable products. A mine was opened which will provide up to 200 tons of shale daily for the retorts, develop low-cost methods of mining oil shale, and demonstrate the costs of mining on a large scale.
PETROLEUM AND NATURAL GAS To offset in some measure the immense withdrawals from the Nation's oil reserves during the war, the Bureau of Mines has stressed : three-phase program of conservation and better utilization, the objectives being to increase primary recovery of oil through more efficient utilization of the energy impounded with the oil in the native reservoir, to stimulate secondary recovery of oil from old fields, and to enhance the use of crude oils containing sulfur compounds which the refiners regard as undesirable. Unaltered by the weakening of enemy resistance, these are basic, long-range objectives in the field of petroleum and natural gas, and the Bureau's research toward their attainment will be continued.
In 1945, studies of primary methods of crude-oil extraction were intensified in the California, Rocky Mountain, and Gulf Coast fields with particular emphasis upon the gas-condensate reservoirs of the latter region. Engineering analyses of reservoir data were made for the operators and Government agencies concerned with three gas-condensate fields, each with multiple-zone production. Flow characteristics and other properties of the fluids from two of the reservoirs were determined on the spot in a specially designed mobile pilot plant, and fluids from the third reservoir were collected for subsequent laboratory analysis. In a study of reservoir conditions in Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 1 at Elk Hills, Calif., the Bureau performed service for the Navy and unit operators by analyzing more than 600 samples of unconsolidated cores and by determining gasliberation and shrinkage data as well as other physical characteristics of the reservoir oils.
In Oklahoma's West Edmond field, a technique of diamond coring was introduced which has wide application in other fields where the use of steel bits causes low core recoveries.
The internal corrosion of tubing and wellhead equipment in fields where high pressures and temperatures exist has become a serious menace to life and property. Laboratory corrosion tests conducted by the Bureau under controlled conditions simulating those found in field practice indicated the probable corrosive effects of carbon dioxide and organic acids and disclosed the protective values of different chemical inhibitors.
Extending their research on stimulative methods of secondary recovery in fields long past their peak of production, Bureau engineers prepared reports on such operations in Illinois and the Appalachian region and on the history of water-flooding operations in Kansas. New techniques were developed in the water and core laboratories which aided greatly in the interpretation of field data. Contamination of oil-field cores by "oil-base” muds was studied intensively. A pilot-plant process yielding a 90-percent recovery of microcrystalline wax distillate from tank-bottom settlings was developed successfully after many technical operating difficulties were overcome.
Wartime petroleum chemistry and refining research of the Bureau of Mines—involving superfractionation, hydrocarbon analysis, and engine testing of fuels-was channeled toward the maximum utilization of the less desirable domestic crude oils in aviation and other fuels. To this end, a comprehensive investigation was undertaken upon sulfur-bearing oils. Postwar developments will demand increased knowledge of the composition of petroleum, and the Bureau's wartime studies of aviation fuels will form the groundwork for research programs to obtain accurate information on the hydrocarbon composition and properties of distillates from all types of crude oils. During the year, 32 special restricted reports containing some 600 pages upon several phases of the aviation-fuel work were made available to refiners and members of technical committees. Many of these data will be applicable to postwar refining of aviation, motor, and Diesel fuels.
Precise values of certain fundamental thermodynamic constants were determined on 11 different pure hydrocarbons, heats of combustion were ascertained on blended fuels proposed for use in the latest types of aviation engines, and preliminary work was done on lead tetraethyl. The completion of a hydrogen liquefaction plant permitted the extension of low-temperature research to 435° below zero (Fahrenheit).
HELIUM Direct war uses of helium-a lightweight, nonflammable gas produced solely by the Bureau of Mines-declined somewhat in 1945, but commercial demand increased some 65 percent and other war-supporting uses also increased, permitting production to continue at approximately the same rate as last year.
The Bureau's helium plant at Otis, Kans., was awarded the Army and Navy “E” for outstanding production, and the plants at Amarillo and Exell, Tex., each received a star for their Army and Navy “E” flags.
To conserve helium for future use, the Bureau established a gigantic underground cache by injecting all produced in excess of military and industrial needs into the Government-owned Cliffside gas field. This helium was extracted from natural gas being delivered by private producers to domestic and commercial markets and otherwise would have been lost. Helium in Government-owned fields also was con
served by increasing the proportion taken from privately owned natural gas.
Now used as a tracer gas in underground oil and gas reservoirs to determine flow conditions, helium has provided the petroleum industry with a new and important tool. Bureau engineers introduced this technique in the Elk Hills Naval Petroleum Reserve with signal success. Many other industrial applications of helium have been developed to supplement its principal employment in the inflation of lighter-than-air craft. The Bureau of Mines, with its present facilities, stands ready to meet the demand occasioned by these and by other new uses still in the development stage.
EXPLOSIVES RESEARCH Fostering the protection of life and property, the Bureau of Mines made many special investigations for industry and the armed forces on the safe manufacture and handling of explosives and explosive materials. In the course of these studies, the Bureau's technicians made more than 400 chemical analyses, 2,700 gallery tests, and 2,000 other control tests.
Research on the explosive properties of important combustible liquids and gases, such as high-octane gasoline and materials for synthetic rubber, enabled the Bureau to develop methods for preventing explosions. Inert atmospheres, for example, were used in loading incendiary war materials.
An investigation of the numerous acetylene generator explosions in shipyards, which was undertaken at the request of the War Production Board, disclosed that inferior carbide and improper generator operation caused a number of these disasters.
Following an extensive investigation of a disastrous fire which broke out when a storage tank containing liquefied natural gas failed at Cleveland, Ohio, on October 20, 1944, the Bureau of Mines prepared detailed recommendations for preventing the recurrence of such disasters.
To avoid fires and explosions caused by sparks and arcs from bare electric trolley wires in gassy and dusty coal mines, the Bureau encouraged the development of Diesel mine locomotives by preparing a schedule of permissible requirements for such locomotives.
To assist mines in meeting increased demands for coal, the Bureau determined the conditions under which the permissible charge of explosives may be increased from 1.5 to 3 pounds. A new schedule also was published which set forth the conditions under which permissible blasting devices can be fired without stemming. Sheathed explosives reduce or prevent fires and explosions caused by blasting in coal mines, but sheaths may increase toxic gas emissions under certain conditions and these are being studied. Hazards associated with the use of liquid-oxygen explosives also were being evaluated.
New equipment for testing explosives and detonators was intervals including an electronic chronoscope that will measure time invented, of a millionth of a second. Five more explosives were added to the list of permissible explosives, which now includes 178.
Cooperating with the War and Navy Departments, the Burean determined experimentally hazards involved in the handling and storage of military explosives and incendiary materials, and a member of the Bureau's staff served as chairman of the Army-Navy-Bureau of Mines Board on the Storage of Smokeless Powder. A related study is in progress on the hazards associated with static sparks.
SAFETY, PLANT PROTECTION, AND HEALTH ACTIVITIES An acute need for increasing war production in the mineral industries despite manpower and equipment shortages lent added significance to the safety and security programs of the Bureau of Mines in the fiscal year 1945. .
Under these programs, the Bureau performed a multiplicity of services—virtually all devoted basically to the conservation of essential manpower and equipment in these industries. These services included safety education, accident-prevention training, accident investigations, material and equipment tests, coal-mine inspections and reports, prevention of sabotage with the cooperation of the armed forces, explosives control, and field and laboratory studies on the occurrence of gases, dust, temperatures, and other conditions affecting the health of mine workers.
The influence of the Bureau's safety programs upon the accident records of the mineral industries cannot be measured with exactitude, but it is significant that coal-mine fatality rates declined to the lowest point in the Nation's history.
Fewer American mine workers lost their lives for each million tons of coal produced in 1944 than in any other year on record. Despite numerous unfavorable safety factors incident to a war economy, including the necessity for producing a maximum quantity of coal, between 150 and 200 lives were saved in coal mines as compared with the previous year. The fatality rate for the first 6 months of 1945 likewise shows a heavy reduction over the same period in 1944. In fact, nearly 4,000 coal miners are alive today who might have perished during the last 372 war years had coal-mine fatality rates remained at the levels of World War I.
Safety Work The safety educational and investigative field work of the Bureau of Mines, an invaluable service to industry for more than 3 decades, is correlated and directed by the supervising engineers of the eight districts into which the country has been divided. These men,