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The Warsaw Voice » Other » July 1, 2009
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Hydrogen From Coal
July 1, 2009   
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The Barbara Experimental Coal Mine in Mikołów near Katowice, southern Poland, is the site of a pilot project involving gasification of coal, or its conversion into gaseous products.

The experiment, started in May, marks a new stage of research by the Central Mining Institute (GIG) in Katowice with the aim of developing a technology for gasifying coal underground.

The experiment involves the use of a ground-based coal gasification facility and is being conducted as part of the Hydrogen-Oriented Underground Coal Gasification for Europe (HUGE) research project that spans a period of three years. The project is being coordinated by the GIG institute and involves 10 partner institutions.

The HUGE project
The Hydrogen-Oriented Underground Coal Gasification for Europe project aims to help experts design a model mine of the future. In the mine, the coal gasification process would be conducted underground, but hydrogen-rich gas would be obtained on the surface. During the gasification process, which would involve the use of air, oxygen and steam, calcium oxide would be injected into the coal seam in order to eliminate carbon dioxide, one of the gases responsible for the greenhouse effect. Carbon dioxide would be sequestrated in the form of calcium carbonate and stored in underground caverns.

The project is designed to enable coal companies to mine deposits that remain unexploited today due to unfavorable geological conditions and excessive extraction costs.

Pilot system
The coal gasification system built in the Barbara mine is designed to simulate the conditions in the coal seam underground. The facility is about 5 meters long, 3 meters wide and nearly 2 meters high and made from refractory concrete. A system of ducts supplies oxygen, steam or air, depending on the required temperature. After separating solid particles, the gaseous product obtained in the system contains carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, methane, and hydrogen. The individual constituents are measured around the clock every 15 minutes in order to establish exactly when the content of hydrogen in the mixture is the highest. The whole process lasts five to seven days. The temperature inside the facility is maintained at a steady level of about 1,100 degrees Celsius.

Gases obtained in the facility contain impurities. Particles of vapor that did not react with the coal inside the facility and solid particles such as tar are separated from the gaseous mixture. Then the composition of the gases is thoroughly tested with the use of chromatography techniques.

The results of the ground-based experiment will make it possible to plan experiments underground beginning this fall. These experiments will also be conducted at the Barbara mine.

GIG researchers says that, in theory, such experiments are a potential health hazard due to 30 percent carbon monoxide content. The danger, however, can be reduced to a minimum thanks to geological and hydrogeological studies.

Today, the ground-based facility yields about 10-12 cubic meters of gases with high hydrogen content per hour. Underground experiments will enable the researchers to increase the amount by 15- to 20-fold.

The research being conducted by GIG aims to establish optimal conditions for

Experiments carried out so far do not show clearly if industrial production of hydrogen through the gasification of coal in the seam would be profitable, experts say. Preliminary data reveals that gas obtained in this way could be used in chemical synthesis and in the production of liquid fuels, for example.

In the HUGE project, the process of gasifying coal underground is oriented toward producing hydrogen-rich gas and at the same time eliminating carbon dioxide by permanently bonding it into calcium carbonate and storing it underground. Experts say the technology may prove vital for the future of coal mining, helping meet demand for electricity, raw materials for the chemical industry and fuel for the needs of transportation.

The HUGE project is co-financed by the European Commission under the Research Fund for Coal and Steel (RFCS). The project, with a total budget of more than 3 million euros, is slated for completion in June next year.

Ewa Dereń

Hot Coals
The Central Mining Institute (GIG) has conducted research into coal processing since the late 1960s. The institute is involved in several European Union projects, including one concerning carbon dioxide sequestration in underground coal fields. In another project, the institute is helping develop a technology for converting coal to hydrogen in a "steam reforming process." GIG also deals with oxygen production and cleaning mixtures containing hydrogen.

What's in a Name
Underground coal gasification (UCG) is an industrial process that enables the coal to be converted into product gas. UCG is an in-situ gasification process carried out in non-mined coal seams using injection of oxidants, and bringing the product gas to surface through production wells drilled from the surface. The product gas can be used as a chemical feedstock or as fuel for power generation. The technique can be applied to resources that are otherwise not economical to extract and also offers an alternative to conventional coal mining methods for some resources.
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