Underground coal burning may become energy source

Sep 21 -
> McClatchy-Tribune Regional News - Joe Napsha The Pittsburgh
> Tribune-Review
> Synthetic gas produced by burning coal reserves could become part
> of the United States' energy mix if a firm spends more than $500
> million on a plant, overcomes environmental hurdles and natural gas
> prices don't hit rock bottom, energy experts in Pittsburgh said
> Sunday.
> Underground coal gasification -- burning coal buried about 1,500
> feet underground and capturing the gases -- has the potential to
> provide electricity by powering natural-gas-powered turbines, to
> become a substitute for natural gas and to be used in jet and diesel
> fuel, said Rachid Oukaci, founding partner of Energy Technology
> Partners LLC of Pittsburgh.
> Speaking at the opening of the International Pittsburgh Coal
> Conference on energy, environmental and sustainable development at the
> Westin Convention Center, Downtown, Oukaci said the synthetic gas
> could be blended into several other products, but it must be treated
> to remove impurities that can pose environmental hazards.
> The technology -- drilling one hole into the coal seam to
> introduce oxygen, which is ignited to burn the coal into char, and
> another hole to direct the gases released by combustion into an
> above-ground plant
> -- has
> been available for decades, said Davis, who was a researcher for the
> former Gulf Oil Corp. in Pittsburgh, and a speaker at a seminar on
> underground coal gasification.
> "The reason it was not pursued was because of cheap natural gas,"
> said Burl Davis of New Kensington, the chief underground coal
> gasification technologist for Carbon Energy LLC, an Australian energy
> firm.
> Underground coal gasification will never compete with low-cost
> natural gas, said Julio Friedman, director of the carbon management
> program leader at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in
> Livermore, Calif.
> "If you have natural gas at (a production cost of) $1.50 per
> million cubic foot, you will never do underground coal gasification,"
> Friedman said.
> The only two coal gasification pilot projects in the United
> States, both in Wyoming, are shut down and are burning off the
> synthetic gas that is vented from underground, said Mary Bloomstran,
> owner of Edge Environmental Inc. of Lakewood, Colo.
> A commercial underground coal gasification plant would cost an
> estimated $500 million, and that's after investing about $50 million
> for a pilot project and another $500,000 for a feasibility study,
> Friedman said.
> If the commercial synthetic gas project becomes a reality in the
> United States, it's likely not to be in Pennsylvania because of the
> composition of the coal reserves, Davis said. The state's bituminous
> coal seams are too fractured and thin for the coal gasification
> process, Davis said.
> Wyoming was selected as the site for the pilot underground coal
> gasification projects because of its vast coal reserves and the fact
> those reserves are below the bituminous coal layers, Bloomstran said.
> Australia has one coal gasification plant in operation, and
> Eastern Europe and China are not far behind, said Rohan Courtney,
> founding director of the Underground Coal Gasification Association in
> London.
> The conference has attracted about 450 people from government,
> industry and academia, said Badie I. Morsi, a University of Pittsburgh
> chemical and engineering professor and executive director of the
> conference.
> They came from 26 countries, including 17 of the 20 countries that
> will be represented at the Group of 20 summit Thursday and Friday at
> the David L.
> Lawrence Convention Center.