As we’ve talked about many times before, coal is one of the world’s most abundant energy sources. To tap known coal reserves that have been deemed unmineable in the traditional sense, underground coal gasification provides an environmentally-friendly solution.
American Coal magazine—a publication by the American Coal Council, whose content we’ve been featuring lately—explained in its inaugural issue, underground coal gasification is a process that converts unworked coal—while still in the ground—into a combustible gas that can be used for industrial heating, power generation, or the manufacturing of hydrogen, synthetic natural gas or diesel fuel. Due to dwindling oil and gas reserves, underground coal gasification has resurfaced as a viable energy development option.
And given that coal’s abundance and affordability, many countries are turning to underground coal gasification to make full use of their domestic energy resources.
Research is also underway to weigh the possibility of storing carbon dioxide (CO2) in cavities where coal has already been gasified and removed—and the results look promising. According to a 2008 Wall Street Journal story, China is believed to have conducted more trials of this process than any other country in the past 10 years.
According to American Coal magazine, China currently has about 30 underground gasification projects underway, and other countries like Vietnam and Brazil are attracted to the technology as a matter of energy security.
In addition to providing access to coal additional coal reserves, underground coal gasification carries significant environmental benefits, as it produces no sulfur oxide or nitrogen oxide and has lower levels of particulate matter.
Indeed, this clean coal technology is one to watch. If you’re new to the process of underground coal gasification, check out American Coal magazine’s article on the subject. While not a silver bullet, this may be one more tool in our arsenal—helping us use our most abundant resource effectively, affordably and in conjunction with our environmental goals.