February 12, 2024 - When people think of mining, they might picture a tough, dirty and risky job. But for Du Huailong, who holds a master's degree in mining, his 11-year career as a coal miner is breaking conventional stereotypes.
"Coal mining today is different from the past. There has been a significant reduction in manual work required in the mining process, with intelligent technologies taking on greater importance," said Du, 35, as he jumped onto a trackless rubber-tire vehicle, descending into a mine in Shaanxi Province, a major coal hub in China.
The vehicle glided through the spacious, well-lit tunnels to reach the working face where 5G base stations, automated conveyor belts and coal-cutting machines were in operation. With just 13 workers per shift, the extraction yields 13,000 tonnes of coal.
Du works at Daliuta Coal Mine, owned by one of China's largest coal producers, Shendong Coal Group.
Inside the control room, large intelligent screens display real-time updates on underground coal extraction progress and operations. Workers use a mouse to remotely carry out the coal-cutting process.
In recent years, China has been pushing forward the development of intelligent mining amid efforts to improve production safety and high-quality development of the coal industry.
According to statistics from the National Mine Safety Administration, a total of 730 coal mines in China had been equipped with intelligent working faces as of last September.
The younger generation with higher education is spearheading China's smart coal mining initiatives.
Shendong Coal Group, which owns 13 mines, has established over 90 intelligent coal mining teams, boasting an average age of 31.
As a key energy enterprise in Shaanxi Province, Shaanxi Coal and Chemical Industry Group Co., Ltd. recruited 642 postgraduate talents in 2023 alone to promote high-quality development.
The shift to smart mining has not only created a safer and more efficient working atmosphere for modern miners but also fostered an enjoyable living environment.
Facilities like smart canteens, health examination centers, and recreational rooms have enriched the leisure lives of mine workers at the Caojiatan mining company in Yulin City, Shaanxi.
After a day's work, a hot shower, a nutritious meal, and a workout session at the gym have become the daily routine of Zhao Xiaowei, a 39-year-old miner.
"The canteen displays nutritional information, such as protein, fat and calorie content for each dish, and the gym is equipped with fitness equipment and physical health testing instruments," Zhao said.
Among the workforce at Daliuta Coal Mine, 49 employees, including Du Huailong, hold master's degrees. Du said his dream of intelligent mining, envisioned over a decade ago, has now become a reality.
As the leader of a mining team, he has a tight schedule during the Chinese New Year. "We have to ensure a stable and secure coal supply so that others can relish a warm and cozy Spring Festival," he said.