Pneumatic Capsule Pipelines

History and Recent History

Pneumatic Capsule Systems

Mines are growing increasingly interested in Pneumatic Capsule Pipelines for horizontal and vertical transportation. One of the biggest reasons to motivate miners to consider P.C.P.'s is the cost of fuel. With diesel fuel headed for $1.50 per litre, the cost of horizontal and vertical transportation is about to skyrocket. Transportation is a very major cost in mining.

Another important reason is vertical hoisting. Nickel miners are currently working at minus 6000 feet. Cables for skip-hoists are currently limited for safety reasons to minus 7000 feet. Also for economic and practical reasons minus 7000 feet is the limit.

Mines want to work at greater depths, minus 8000 feet — Xstrata/Falconbridge; minus 9000 feet —Vale/lnco; minus 12,000 feet — South Africa (already exists). Double hoisting can be used, however it is expensive in capital and operating costs. Also it adds significantly to the material handling costs. Skip hoists look and behave like an elevator therefore they come under the elevator code. This adds additional expense.

Pneumatic Capsule Pipelines do not come under the elevator code. Also, P.C.P.'s move ore from near the mine face to the hoisting shaft, up this shaft to the surface and on to the mill in one operation. There are no material transfers at the shaft or the surface. Material is moved continuously. More material is moved in a more confined space. A 36 or 60-inch diameter raise bored shaft is fairly inexpensive to construct. A mine still requires a hoist to transport workers, equipment and machinery vertically.

Pneutrans Systems Limited has many outstanding quotes, all are to mines.

In the next few years, 80 percent of the current mine management will be replaced through attrition. Their replacements in the Sudbury area of Ontario (nickel mining area) are knowledgeable in Pneumatic Capsule Pipelines.

Every year from 1996 to 2011, Brink Weaver was invited to speak and demonstrate Pneumatic Capsule Pipelines to the graduating class in the Department of Mining Engineering at Laurentian University in Sudbury. Many consultants, interested parties in the mining industry and representatives from Vale/lnco and Xstrata/Falconbridge have attended these lectures and demonstrations.

Dr. Julian Practice and his assistant Mr. Lionel Rudd invited Dr. George Round (Department of Mechanical Engineering, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario) to witness two important experiments that were financed by Vale/lnco and Xstrata/Falconbrldge. The first experiment was a horizontal system. The second experiment was a vertical system. Both were successful.

The late Dr. George Round was keenly interested in Pneumatic Capsule Pipelines. He had a 2% interest in Pneutrans in exchange for his knowledge. Pneutrans Systems Limited is a member of the International Pipeline Society.

Mr. Charley Graham of Camiro, a mining sponsored association, has been very helpful to Pneutrans. in 2002 he presented a paper on P.C.P.'s at the PDAC conference in Toronto.


In 1810 George Medhurst proposed a small diameter tube in which a hollow piston carrying letters would be propelled by compressed air. In 1827 a two-meter diameter people transporting model was demonstrated at the Brighton Exhibition in England.

In 1824 John Vallance was granted a patent on such a system eight feet in diameter, 180 feet long with a carriage on a track.

From 1843 to 1855 the "Atmospheric Railway" was built and operated for the transport of passengers between Kingstown and Dalkey, Ireland.

lsambard Kingdon Brunel the great 19th century engineer, impressed with the principal of the “Atmospheric Railway" built a 41-mile section of the Great Western Railway from Croydon to Devon, England. This operated for only nine months due to serious technical problems.

In 1868 Alfred Ely Beach constructed a nine-foot diameter pneumatically powered subway under New York City, which operated for two years.

Prior to Pneumatic Tube Systems, a hollowed out wooden croquet ball was used to convey money in a store from the clerk to the central cashier and back. This system was limited to how far one of these balls could be rolled along a trough at the back of a counter.

Then came the cup on a wire that was catapulted from the clerk to the central cashier on the mezzanine. Sister of Mercy Hospital near Syracuse, New York, needed something to move papers and perhaps small doses of medication from one floor straight up to the next. Dumb waiters were not practical nor was a pail on a cable and pulley so Mr. Bill Lamson created and patented the Pneumatic Tube System and formed a company in Syracuse in 1889.

A spring-loaded bellows powered the first system. A pedal was stepped on momentarily. The spring power on the bellows compressed the air, sending the carrier to its destination.

Pneumatic Tube System technology and uses grew quickly. Some examples:

  • To central cashiers in stores before cash registers
  • Hospitals, steel mills, factories, office buildings stock brokers
  • Many variations in mechanical technology before automation
  • Automation brought further changes and widening of the scope of systems including improved operation and reliability with less maintenance
  • About 1970 brought a major change from “twin” tube to “single line reversing" systems.
  • Computerization and fax machines severely crippled the Pneumatic Tube industry by the mid 1980‘s. Pneumatic Capsule Pipeline Systems are an obvious extension on Pneumatic Tube System technology as it is exactly the same.

Coming back to Pneumatic Tube Systems - tubing has been made in many sizes and shapes over the years. Tens of thousands of manual, semi-automatic to fully automatic, point-to-point and point to multi-point systems have been installed.

About the same time Pneumatic Tube Systems were built connecting the major post office within Philadelphia, Boston, New York, San Francisco as well as London, England and Paris, France. The systems in the United States were closed down in the Eisenhower years due to a very strong lobby by the truckers.

In the 1950's or early 1960‘s the Pentagon, Washington DC built a people carrying Pneumatic Capsule Pipeline to transport important people to safety in times of trouble.

Recent History

The Canadian Government financed five years or research in Alberta on in the 1960's. As there was little interest and no "takers" in the program, it was discontinued.

In the 1970's Hamburg, Germany built a large diameter P.C.P. to handle mail between postal stations. Information on this is sketchy. It was shut down due to winter weather problems.

Also in the 1970's a PCP. was built in Romania to handle aggregate. The company that installed this system and the system disappeared with the demise of communism.

About this same time three systems were built in Russia to carry fertilizer, aggregate and garbage These systems were about one meter in diameter and of various lengths up to 20 kilometers. The company that built these systems also disappeared with the demise of communism The systems were recently shut down because the bronze wheels failed due to metallurgical problems. They were replaced with iron or steel wheels that eventually wore out. They in turn were replaced with hardened steel wheels that wore holes in the steel pipeline. The pipeline was shut down and abandoned.