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Center for Underground to Design, Demonstrate Rapid Tunneling Technology


The Center for Underground at Colorado School of Mines recently was awarded a major contract from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to design and demonstrate rapid tunneling technology.

“This project should dramatically improve tunneling efficiency,” said Mike Mooney, Grewcock Distinguished Chair of Underground Construction and Tunneling and the project’s director and lead investigator.

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“Our proposed advances aim to drive down the cost of tunneling and dramatically increase the speed of tunneling over current practice. The project is highly interdisciplinary, blending the civil tunneling and horizontal directional drilling expertise at Mines with petroleum drilling engineering, chemical engineering, mechanical engineering and geophysics expertise. This project brings together all the right expertise to advance rapid tunnel construction,” said Alfred Eustes, Associate Professor of Petroleum Engineering.

“Our approach blends horizontal directional drilling’s operational framework and oil and gas directional drilling’s proven metric-exceeding speed and distance performance with additional advances in excavation mechanics, tunnel installation, ground imaging and artificial intelligence,” Mooney said. “This unique project provides an opportunity for step change advances in tunneling technology that can improve tunnel construction for water, wastewater, transportation, and utilities.”

The R&D effort is structured as a university-industry innovation incubator at Mines. The Center for Underground brought in full-time engineering professionals with expertise in sensing, artificial intelligence, mechanical systems, smart fluids, and instrumentation to work closely with Mines faculty experts. “We are organized as a university-industry melting pot of different disciplines, skill sets, and perspectives, with innovative ideas flying all over the place,” says Joe Samaniuk, Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering. Mines will also bring in partners in field testing.

The research team plans a field site demonstration targeting sustained tunneling advance rates of 1,200 ft per hour 15 months from now.

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