LANCASTER — Mine Shield LLC will use NASA-caliber technology to recycle the air in the refuge chambers — the metal compartments with enough food, air and water to help trapped miners — it makes.
On Tuesday, the Lancaster company announced a partnership with Paragon Space Development Corp. of Tucson, Ariz. Mine Shield has purchased the licensing rights to use Paragon's "air revitalization system" in its refuge chambers.
Paragon started 18 years ago and works with NASA to develop life-support systems for commercial spacecraft. Last year, Paragon began working with the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration to look at ways to improve the safety and effectiveness of refuge chambers.
"We may get into mines before we make it into space," cracked Taber MacCallum, chief executive officer of Paragon, who was in Lancaster for Tuesday's announcement. MacCallum said Mine Shield would be a good fit.
"Not only do they have, I think, the leading chamber, in terms of its inherent technology, but they have a really fabulous engineering team," MacCallum said. "They have a team we can work with to take these technologies and insert them into the existing systems to make them more competitive."
"The technology that Taber's company is bringing to our company will allow us to make a much safer unit than we already have," said Connie Hendren, CEO for Mine Shield.
Mine Shield now uses a large amount of compressed air to purge the atmosphere in its chambers, which are used in China and elsewhere around the world.
"Those cylinders, in and of themselves, represent a hazard with a large amount of compressed gas and fittings and tubings," MacCallum said. "What they (Mine Shield) want to do is reduce the number of cylinders to a much smaller number, and then use air-revitalization technology — which is a series of scrubbers and filters and catalysts that purify the air over and over again rather than purge out the contaminated air. We're essentially recycling the air."
Mine Shield, which came to Lancaster in 2010, employs more than 30 people there. The company hopes to receive certification soon for its chambers from MSHA, which would allow the company to expand its manufacturing line and add 100 or more jobs in Lancaster as it seeks to put multiple chambers in the country's 13,000 mines.
U.S. mining companies have a legal mandate to retrofit or replace all of their refuge chambers starting in 2013. Mine Shield hopes to get a good portion of that market with chambers that have Paragon's air-recycling systems.
MacCallum said refuge chambers also might be used as "panic rooms" for the staffs of embassies around the world.
"This company has a real spark to it," MacCallum said of Mine Shield.