Posts tagged Underground Coal Gasification

Underground coal gasification makes a comeback


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.

Underground coal gasification underway in Alberta

For the most part, clean coal technologies have focused on making coal-generated electricity cleaner and more efficient. But an Alberta, Canada project aims to clean up the production side of the process by eliminating the need to mine coal altogether.

By using underground coal gasification (UCG) technology, coal is transformed into clean gas while its emissions – and the coal itself – stay deep beneath the earth. The process also has the potential to access otherwise unrecoverable coal deposits, helping to increase coal reserves and foster energy independence.

The project, run by Calgary-based Swan Hills Synfuels, is still in the early stages of development – but Alberta’s government recently announced that it would invest $271 million to its research and development, reports MIT’s Technology Review Magazine.

According to the article, the 300-megawatt project is estimated to cost about $1.4 billion and will start in 2015.

The technology – which was successfully demonstrated on a commercial scale in Australia in 2008 – has enormous environmental benefits. UCG can drastically reduce carbon dioxide emissions and minimize the impact of mining on natural geographic formations – an issue we know that some people are concerned about.

Furthermore, unlike traditional coal plants, UCG facilities do not require surface gasifiers or coal transportation systems, making it a cost-friendly option for the emerging markets of China and India.

This just goes to show that there’s never been an environmental challenge facing the industry for which technology hasn’t provided a solution. Projects like these are just another example of our industry’s commitment to finding innovative ways to produce energy from coal, helping to make this abundant resource a fuel for the future.

Proposed gasification plant in Alaska could quadruple U.S. coal reserves

Lawrence Livermore UGC Diagram

Source: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is advising Cook Inlet Region Inc., an Alaska native-owned corporation, about building a 100-megawatt underground coal gasification plant on a shore near Anchorage, Ala., reports The San Francisco Business Times.

Alaska has about one-sixth of the world’s coal resources, The Times says. UGC technology would allow the state to fully use otherwise unrecoverable coal deposits, effectively tripling or quadrupling the U.S.’s coal reserves, according to Lawrence Livermore. This would be a big boost toward increasing our energy independence.

For those who aren’t familiar, underground coal gasification converts coal that is still in the ground into a combustible gas, which can then be used for industrial heating, power generation or the manufacture of hydrogen, synthetic natural gas or diesel fuel.

The technology eliminates the need for coal to be mined, making it an environmentally safer and economically viable technology. Australia successfully demonstrated UGC on a commercial scale in 2008, and there are UGC projects underway in China, India and South Africa.

Cook Inlet Region Inc.’s $280 million UGC project is just one more example of our industry’s commitment to finding innovative ways to produce energy from coal. It would also help diversify Alaska’s current energy mix and provide a climate-conscious way to ensure greater energy security for the country.