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Underground Coal Gasification

In-situ Production

Underground coal gasification (UCG) is an industrial process which converts coal into syngas, and this process takes place in-situ, i.e. in un-mined coal seams. The basic UCG process consists of drilling one production well into the un-mined coal-seam for the injection of oxygen, while another production well is drilled alongside in order to bring the product gas to the surface. The product gas is synthetic gas (or syngas) which can be used as a fuel for chemicals or for power generation. UCG is suitable for deep coal seams, often too deep to be mined. Also, and most importantly, compared to traditional coal mining and gasification, underground coal gasification does much less damage to the environment.

Modern Technology

Underground coal gasification was pioneered by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Today UCG is a competitive technology which produces ultra-clean diesel or gasoline, jet fuel, electricity and many different chemicals. Moreover, in contrast to water-intensive coal mining and pulverized coal-fired energy production, UCG does not require an external water source, and this is a major benefit to the environment.

First Underground Coal Gasification Project in Russia

In Russia, for the first time in decades an underground coal gasification project has been launched in the Kemerovo region in Siberia, by CBM Partners, a subsidiary of Red Mountain Energy. Initially the syngas from UCG will be used to generate power for a local town. Currently, CBM Partners has a team of experienced exploration geologists working on a UCG feasibility study.

Criteria for UCG

Underground coal gasification is only viable in coal seams which meet the following criteria:

  • Coal seams must lie underground at a depth of between 30 and 800 meters (100 and 2,600 ft).
  • Seam thickness must be more than 5 meters (16 ft).
  • Ash content of coal must be less than 45%.
  • Coal seams must have minimal discontinuities.
  • There must be no aquifers near the site (to avoid polluting drinking water).