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Underground Coal Gasification
August 2, 2010   
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Scientists from the Central Mining Institute (GIG) in the southern city of Katowice successfully gasified coal underground in a trial project that lasted two weeks in April.

After the test the scientists say they know more about the process and safety aspects, and the effect of different gasification agents on the quality of the end product. The underground test came after two years of research on a surface “geo-reactor.” The test’s main goal was to establish the efficiency of underground gasification and to extract hydrogen.

Underground coal gasification, first started in Britain at the beginning of the 20th century, produces energy from coal directly at the coal seam. This is achieved by introducing a gasification agent, which could be air, oxygen or steam, to burning coal and extracting resultant gases to the surface.

Experts say the process is far more complicated and difficult to execute underground than on the surface.

The test was carried out at GIG’s Barbara Experimental Mine in Mikołów in a “geo-reactor” almost 100 meters underground. The seam at this point contains some 25 metric tons of coal and measures 10 by 15 meters and is some 1.5 meters thick. It was isolated from the rest of the workings for safety and comfort. Once the reactor was fired up, a continuous stream of a mixture of air, oxygen and steam was fed into it. The resultant combustion produced carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen. These were taken to the surface and burned off. The concentration of these gases, which was strictly monitored, depended on the thermo-dynamic conditions within the gasification process and the gasification agents used. The volume of hydrogen extracted, about 30 percent of the total, met expectations. Hydrogen concentration, however, varied during the different stages of the process.

During the test, the rate of coal combustion was some 40 kilograms per hour. Over the two weeks of the test, some 12-15 tons was gasified.

HUGE project

The GIG experiment was part of a larger international project called Hydrogen Oriented Underground Coal Gasification for Europe (HUGE), which was launched over two years ago and aims to gasify coal underground to extract gas rich in hydrogen and to eliminate carbon dioxide.

The GIG team had help from partners in the Netherlands, Britain, Germany, the Czech Republic, Belgium, Ukraine and other Polish institutions to carry out the underground coal gasification test. The project is being co-financed by Poland’s Coal and Steel Research Fund and the Ministry of Science and Higher Education.

In the future, GIG wants to test underground gasification on a larger scale. To this end, it has entered its gasification project in a competition organized by the National Center for Research and Development. The project involves further tests on coal gasification carried out some 400 meters underground at a cost of some zl.30 million in one of the mines belonging to coal company Katowicki Holding Węglowy.

Many uses

There are many uses for the gases produced as a result of coal gasification. Gas rich in hydrogen and carbon dioxide, known as syngas, is an excellent raw material for the chemical industry, for liquid fuel or methanol production, for example, and can be used as a substitute for natural gas. Syngas is also suitable for the production of electricity in gas turbines and its combustion in modified boilers with gas burners is an excellent source of heat. In the future, hydrogen extracted from the gasification process could be used as fuel in fuel cells for the production of electricity. This is currently being researched and implemented in several countries including Australia, South Africa, India, and China. The Central Mining Institute in Katowice carried out experiments to extract hydrogen from gasification up until the 1970s, but then abandoned them. However, interest has now revived because of rising prices and shortages of other energy sources in the world.
Ewa Dereń
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