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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » August 1, 2014
AGH University of Science and Technology
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Turning Coal into Gas
August 1, 2014   
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Coal could become more environmentally-friendly if it is converted into gas before it is used to produce energy, according to researchers at the AGH University of Science and Technology in Krakow.

n Poland has extensive coal deposits and strongly relies on coal to produce energy. The problem is that coal has fallen out of favor in some quarters as the EU strives to cut carbon dioxide emissions.

AGH UST researchers have developed coal gasification technology that may soon result in the production of more environmentally-friendly electricity. The new technology could also improve the efficiency of coal-fired power plants, which produce around 90 percent of electricity in Poland.

Poland’s first underground coal gasification system was launched in the Wieczorek mine in the south of the country in April 2014 by the Central Mining Institute in Katowice (GIG), which is leading the way in research into the gasification of coal underground.

Meanwhile, the Zabrze-based Institute for Chemical Processing of Coal, in cooperation with the AGH UST and the Silesian University of Technology in Gliwice, has focused research on a different method of processing coal: above-ground gasification.

Both above-ground and underground gasification are being implemented under the “Development of coal gasification technology for highly efficient production of fuels and electricity” project. The project started in 2010 and is expected to be completed in 2015.

“The project comprises several areas of research work,” says Professor Antoni Tajdu¶ from the Department of geomechanics, Civil Engineering and Geotechnics at the AGH UST. “Some [research centres] are dealing with underground coal gasification while others are working on above-ground gasification. With this division of tasks, we have established a consortium that brings together universities, research institutes and businesses interested in the program,” adds Professor Tajdu¶, who was the university’s rector from 2005 to 2012.

The AGH UST is the leader of the consortium. It coordinates the research work of all the partners, evaluates it in scientific terms, conducts its own scientific work and evaluates the effectiveness of new technologies. Several patents are being prepared. With the ideas of the scientists and support from companies such as energy giant Tauron Polska Energia and copper producer KGHM Polska MiedĽ, experts hope it will be possible to reduce the carbon footprint in Poland.

Few countries other than Poland are involved in research into underground coal gasification. This is a difficult undertaking based on obtaining energy directly from the site of the deposit. It is necessary to isolate a portion of the coal seam to be gasified, inject a gasifying agent such as steam or air into the seam in a safe, controlled manner, and collect the synthesis gas produced – which contains mainly a mixture of hydrogen, carbon monoxide and methane – on the surface.

Why has Poland taken an interest in this method of generating energy? In the Lublin basin in the east of the country and in Silesia in the south there are still vast, untapped deposits of coal. Large quantities are available far below 1,100 meters, deeper than miners can reach with traditional drilling methods due to high temperature, pressure and other environmental factors. These deposits could be exploited using gasification technology.

“We are in for a revolution,” says Professor Tajdu¶. “Coal gasification, regardless of whether it takes place under or above ground, will contribute to reduced carbon dioxide emissions. Coupled with an increase in the average efficiency of Polish coal-fired power plants from the 34-percent level to 46 percent and subsequently to even more than 50 percent, this will make it possible to meet increasingly stringent European Union requirements related to reducing carbon dioxide emissions.”

The synthesis gas obtained through underground or above-ground gasification can successfully be used in the chemical industry. This will make it possible to reduce gas and oil imports, while also helping solve the problem of coal overproduction.

Teresa Bętkowska
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