Major 2017 US UCG study, saying that UCG can be a viable source of fossil energy, but that the technology had its heyday in the seventies and eighties and was abandoned then and a lot of senior knowledge and skills has evaporated since. This study supports our attitude that their is no lack of fossil to worry about. The real constraint is the capacity or lack thereof of the environment and atmosphere in particular to absorb all that burned fossil fuel without major consequences for the biosphere. Don’t worry about depletion, worry about how to get away as quickly as possible from fossil fuel.
[e-reports-ext.llnl.gov] – A Review of Underground Coal Gasification Research and Development in the US (2017). David W. Camp – Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Here chapter 10 from the report in full, with our highlights:
10 Concluding remarks
Recent U.S. work between 2005 and 2014 improved understanding of UCG’s environmental aspects, produced improved models, matured site selection processes, and contributed to the review and sharing of UCG information. But the main program of the 1970’s and 1980’s is when the big contributions were made.
The United States work of the 1970’s and 1980’s produced great advances in UCG understanding and technical accomplishments. The technical feasibility of UCG was demonstrated convincingly in the western world. It showed that UCG operations could be designed, constructed, started, operated, and shut down safely. The U.S. started with reports from the Soviet Union that described UCG operations and phenomena, making use of Soviet methods during many field tests. Multiple organizations working at different sites developed a breadth and depth of competence and understanding of UCG, and used this expertise to experiment, innovated, and make great advancements in UCG capabilities, and technology.
Air was injected to make low heating value gas (4-7 MJ/Nm3), and mixtures of oxygen and steam were injected to make medium heating value gas (8-13 MJ/Nm3). U.S. field test operations were at the scale of 1,000 to 10,000 tons of coal in a single module, although some of the modules had multiple burn cavities in them.
Operations almost always ended up working, but they did not always go smoothly as planned. Hardware issues and challenges in the underground and extremely hot environment were a frequent reminder that UCG is still low on the technological development curve towards mature industrial practice.
Some field tests resulted in groundwater contamination. This led to a much greater awareness and understanding of this problem, and recommended approaches to minimize it. The final Rocky Mountain 1 test used many of these and contamination was minor, local, and reduced to deminimus levels after a period of pumping. It remains to be seen if subsequent UCG operations, especially ones at scale can be operated with acceptably low environmental impacts.
Technologies were developed, making use of the rapidly improving technology of directional or horizontal drilling and well completions. These showed promise for scale-up to larger and deeper operations while retaining process efficiency and control. ELW had first been tried in a successful improvisation at Hoe Creek III, and then fielded at Rocky Mountain 1. The greatest technological advance was the invention of the CRIP technique. After successful demonstration in the Centralia field test, CRIP was fielded and performed excellently at the Rocky Mountain 1 test. Designs based on CRIP show great promise for cost-effective scale-up to large, deep and efficient operations.
Most of the early large-scale designs and plans naively assumed that large industrial scale operations would be scaled up with a simple pilot program to gather values for a few key parameters. The complexity and difficulty of UCG was such that despite a long well-funded program, the final field test, while deploying many technical and environmental advances, was not much more than twice the size of the first field test, 14 years earlier. There were no long-term operations of multiple modules or the execution of a full “mine plan.” This was not for lack of interest or enthusiasm for industrial scale – scaleup to a size that would help U.S. energy security was always on researchers minds and addressed in nearly every report.
Doing UCG well, smoothly, and with low environmental impact was simply difficult and required experience and improved methods that needed to be invented and practiced. Much of the test design, construction, and operations were being tried for the first or second time by people doing these things for the first or second time. They faced the challenges always posed by geology, thermal processing of coal, and process engineering pilot start-ups, often in remote locations in harsh weather.
This was a period of strong and continued investment, intense activity, and a great pace of development and learning. Some of the keys to its technical success were long-term continuity of funding and the institutions working on it, sharing of results in public conferences and reports, and determination to understand UCG and make improvements.
While the many field tests formed the centerpiece of the program, they were not isolated activities. The program was robust and well rounded. Measurements of gas composition and quality were made to understand and improve the process, not to advertise success. There was iteration between field test observations, scientific understanding of phenomena, modeling, and lab experiments, with each informing and improving the other. Field tests were first and foremost experimental trials and innovation test-beds. They were not marketing endeavors designed to attract investors and project partners. They emphasized learning, understanding, and technical advancement over simple metrics such as tons gasified. Field tests were highly instrumented and monitored, and drill-backs were common. The mechanisms and geometries of cavity growth, and the contents and nature of the cavities became understood. Conceptual models of the process evolved to better explain and predict observed phenomena.
Program participation was well-rounded. Government research institutions led much of the field test and modeling work. Large energy companies and small UCG-niche companies also had programs that typically included field tests, sometimes with government support and sometimes not. University researchers were involved with laboratory experiments and model development. Experience, capabilities, and knowledge and insight were gained by those actively involved. A sizeable cadre of competent researchers, engineers, and technicians by the 1980’s made the potential growth of an industry feasible. This has now been lost, as all but the most junior of participants of that generation are past retirement age.
Their legacy of reports, and reviews such as this one can convey only a fraction of what these workers knew.
The Annual UCG Symposia tied all these efforts together, fostering communication among researchers to build upon each other. Organized by the DOE, participation and written papers were expected of DOE-funded projects, but many others attended and presented. Because of government funding, a large fraction of the activities was documented well in publicly accessible reports.
UCG understanding and technology advanced in the U.S. in a crucible that mixed creative ideas and the hard realities of field test operations. Observations and results, surprises and disappointments, revisions to mental and mathematical models, and the desire to understand and innovate moved the researchers toward better ways of doing UCG.
A consensus developed in the U.S. that UCG’s future would be in deep horizontal seams of moderate to large thickness, ideally with low-permeability coal and surrounding strata, and a strong overburden. Directional drilling and CRIP appeared best for process control, efficiency and economics. Further testing and development would be needed to assure its reliability, sort out a preference for its linear or parallel embodiment, optimize it, and/or innovate to something even better.
The U.S. UCG program of the 1970’s and 1980’s was extraordinarily productive and successful at advancing a difficult technology. It began with very little domestic knowledge or experience. It ended with a large cadre of experts, successful single-module field tests, a good understanding of the phenomena involved, predictive models, new and more efficient technology and methods, and a good understanding and plans of what next steps were needed to scale up and mature to large-scale industrial operations.
With fluid metal as catalyst, Australian scientists from the RMIT university succeeded in turning CO2 back in coal again at room-temperature.
For the second time in history, locally occurring deposits of coal may come to make a significant contribution to the fuel market in the Netherlands within the next fifty years (up until 2034).
In the early seventies coal mining came to a stop due to steeply rising wages and the discovery of a huge natural gas reservoir then equivalent to approximately 30 times the annual Dutch energy consumption in 1982, It is expected that the energy derived from native coals will become competitive early next century, because of the high costs of landed North Sea Gas, since all onshore gas fields will then be exhausted.
The Dutch coal resources both onshore and offshore are part of the Northwest European coal basin extending from Mid-Germany to England.
The coal bearing carboniferous sediments contain a large amount of hard coal in thin sloping layers. Along the Northwestern coast the top of the carboniferous strata occurs at a depth of 3000 meters. Going inland the carboniferous layers rise until they reach the surface in the Southeastern part of Holland near the border with Germany (where as a consequence coal was mined in the past).
In order to permit an evacuation of future coal use, geophysical surveys are in progress for coal deposits up to a depth of 1500 meters.
At the same time long term research and desk studies are being encouraged by the Government within the framework of a National Coal Research Program. The subject of this report: The applicability of in-situ gasification in Dutch coalfields, is one of these studies.
In chapter 1 the preference for studying in depth underground gasification as a technique for exploiting deep lying thin coal seams in the Netherlands is elucidated.
In chapter 2 horizontal drilling (art extension of deviated drilling) is adopted as a means of disclosing coal seems at acceptable economic and social costs. A survey of the experience gained of in-situ gasification in several countries explains why new gasification models and techniques have to be developed and demonstrated for typical Dutch- and West European conditions. Apart from some modest European efforts the Morgantown Energy Technology Center (USA) is the only institute which attempts to establish a relevant development program.
In chapter 3 a gasification model is set up to provide a basis for a development plan and an economic evaluation of ín-situ gasification.
Chapter 4 deals with site selection for 50 MW demonstration plants t producing either clean gas or electricity, and with the associated safety and environmental aspects. The surface arrangements and underground lay-outs are based on detailed design and engineering efforts. Where necessary for a better understanding of techniques (and prices) commercial tenders have been collected.
Prices for products from demonstration plants and from commercial scale plants are estimated in chapter 5 for a wide range of parameters. Supposing a successful development and therefore a proven technology, the final demonstration plant may produce electricity at a price of approximately 0.23 guilders per kW-hour (75 mills*)/kWh).
Further maturation including additional progress in horizontal drilling may lower the production costs in a commercial plant (sealed up from 50 to 330 MWt) till 0.06 guilders/kWh. This would mean that even the costs of possible future denoxing and complete desulphurization of the flue gases would not jeopardize the economic viability of in-situ gasification.
The utilization of domestic coal deposits reduces the dependency on imported energy. Therefore it seems worthwhile to execute the R&D program specified in chapter 6. The main uncertainties attached to the gasification model may be resolved within five years at an expenditure of 6-8 million guilders.
In chapter 7 it is concluded that in-situ gasification of highly carbonized coal, occurring in deep lying thin seams, is hampered by only a small number of obstacles. Its viability can be assessed at relatively low cost. Governmental involvement with such investigations may be diminished by agreements with interested foreign parties to cooperate, and in the demonstration phase of the development also by industrial participation.
*) 1 US dollar ~ 3 Dutch guilders.
[ecn.nl] – De Mogelijkheden van In-Situ Steenkool Verbranding in Nederland (1984)
[volkskrant.nl] – ‘Steenkool nodig in overgang naar schone energie’ (2005)
[trouw.nl] – DSM overweegt heropening mijnen (2008)
[nemokennislink.nl] – Nederland, olie- en gascentrum van West-Europa (2009)
“We think there are between three trillion and 23 trillion tonnes of coal buried under the North Sea,” explained Dermot Roddy, former professor of energy at Newcastle University.
“This is thousands of times greater than all the oil and gas we have taken out so far, which totals around six billion tonnes. If we could extract just a few per cent of that coal it would be enough to power the UK for decades or centuries.”
[coalresearchforum.org] – The commercialisation of UCG
[ukccsrc.ac.uk] – Dr Dermot Roddy
Dermot Roddy is Five-Quarter’s Chief Technology Officer, leading the company’s highly-specialised and innovative technological remit. He joined the company directly from Newcastle University, where he was Professor of Energy. Dermot is an internationally-respected industry professional and academic, with extensive energy and related downstream industry experience in both the traditional and renewable sectors. He began his working life in academia (with Bachelor and Doctorate degrees from Queen’s University, Belfast), before branching out into industry, working his way up to leadership positions with ICI (overseeing the building and running of chemicals factories) and Petroplus International in the Netherlands. Dermot’s previous positions include being Chairman of Northeast Biofuels; a Director of the UK Hydrogen Association; the VP of the Northeast Electricity companies Association and a Member of the Energy Leadership Council. Prior to his tenure as Professor of Energy at Newcastle University, Dermot was the CEO of Renew Tees Valley, which delivered significant economic regeneration through inward investment and expansion of indigenous businesses in renewable energy.
A group of climate activists named “Code Rood” (“Code Red”) has infiltrated the grounds of the OBA company in Amsterdam to protest the unrestricted use of coal. Amsterdam is the world’s largest petrol and Europe’s second coal harbor. “Code Rood” justified its actions by pointing at a judicial decision of two years ago stating the government is responsible of protecting its citizens against climate change (“Urgenda case”).
According to “Code Rood” nothing has happened since.
The Urgenda Foundation pushes for The Netherlands fossil free as early as 2030, not the EU goal of 2050.
That’s not us saying so, but the world’s largest investment group BlackRock. These people are not particularly concerned with depleting resources, deteriorating environment or climate change, but in hard money only.
BlackRock, the world’s largest investment group, with $5 trillion in assets — more than the world’s largest banks — has begun to bet on clean energy. Why? “The thing that has changed fundamentally the whole picture is that renewables have gotten so cheap,” said [Jim] Barry.
President Trump is betting on reviving America’s coal industry, but BlackRock considers that to be a mistake.
The economic reality is that cheap fracked gas and plummeting prices for clean energy has squeezed both coal production and coal consumption to levels not seen for decades…
Because of the rapidly improving performance and cost of batteries, Barry is “bullish” on electric vehicles. And as a result, he is bearish on oil demand, noting that “there was always this historic view on oil about peak supply but it’s about peak demand being an equal dynamic.”
But following an independent review, which concluded the emissions from the process would be significantly higher than other sources of gas, the UK Government on Thursday ended any remaining hopes, saying it was “minded to not support the development of this technology in the UK”.
Editor: apparently the UK government is confident that their energy needs can be covered from other sources and shy away from potential negative environmental effects. But the coal will remain where it is and other UK governments could change their minds.
[gov.uk] – Underground Coal Gasification – Evidence Statement of Global Warming Potential
[sciencedirect.com] – The analysis of the underground coal gasification in experimental equipment
[telegraph.co.uk] – Government kills off plans to burn coal under the seabed
[fraw.org.uk] – The hell-fires of UCG threaten Tyneside and the North Sea
[scottishconservatives.com] – Now SNP bans underground coal gasification
[foei.org] – Fuelling the fire
[corporatewatch.org] – Underground Coal Gasification scrapped in the UK
When we started this blog in 2012, we were convinced that the very near future would be as predicted by ASPO-2000, Colin Campbell and Richard Heinberg, namely that the world was already at or even passed peak oil and a rapid decrease in available oil would shake the foundations of industrial society.
Meanwhile we’re living in 2017 and nothing of the sort has materialized. Oil price is currently at $54 and the concept of peak oil has gone out of fashion. The direct reason for this (for laymen) unexpected development is the rise of the fracking industry. There is however reason to assume that there is far more fossil fuel in the earth’s crust than previously anticipated:
[deepresource] – Fracking is for Amateurs (Apr 2015)
When US president elect Trump claims that there is for centuries worth of coal reserves, he is probably not exaggerating. The North Sea between Britain and Holland is probably one of the, if not the most explored areas in the world. While hunting for oil, explorers studying the core samples resulting from drilling activities, they noticed the presence of vast quantities of coal. Think trillions of tons of coal, a multiple of what humanity has burned so far in its entire history. Obviously it is not possible to mine these reserves in the conventional way, but meanwhile technology has advanced to the tune that it is no longer necessary to operate in this way.
In short: it is possible to drill holes and burn the coal at the location where it resides, by injecting oxygen and water and retrieving CH4, H2, CO and CO2.
[wikipedia.org] – Underground coal gasification
The conclusion is that there is more than enough fossil fuel around to build the renewable energy base.
There is some Soviet experience with UCG, beginning in the thirties.
Yerostigaz, located in Angren, Uzbekistan, is the only commercial UCG operation in the world. Operational since 1961, Yerostigaz produces UCG synthesis gas to be used for power generation… 1 million m3/day and will continue to do so for the next 50 years.
[scielo.org.co] – Technological Innovations on Underground Coal Gasification and CO2 SEQUESTRATION
The advantages of this technique are related to its high efficiency, because it makes possible to triple or quadrupling the exploitable coal reserves and so offsetting the decline in reserves of other mineral fuels such as oil and gas. This is particularly suitable for low quality coals, such as lignite and bituminous coal, which produce less heat in combustion due to its high ash content and are they more polluting in conventional plants.
[ualberta.ca] – The Push to Coal Gasification in Alberta
This paper will look specifically at coal gasification as this has the largest impact on Canada and Alberta, specifically in developing a higher value and more environmentally acceptable usage of coal when compared to straight combustion. Modern coal gasification also introduces a cost-effective substitute to natural gas in the form of syngas and hydrogen that can replace natural gas usage for larger natural gas users (such as the oil sands) allowing the natural gas to be freed up for other commercial markets. Finally, the hydro-gasification process produces a relatively pure and easily captured CO2 stream that normal coal combustion does not allow (or is highly uneconomical). In Alberta this carbon dioxide stream is an additional product line for the coal gasifier, who can sell the product to the oil industry for enhanced oil recovery.
[cornerstonemag.net] – Underground Coal Gasification: An Overview of an Emerging Coal Conversion Technology
[lincenergy.com] – carousel with pictures from the thirties
Wow, that doesn’t happen too often: we’re being out-doomed by none other than Goldman-Sachs. The always sympathetic bankers guild has issued a statement saying that not everything is kosher in energy land and that the world is already past peak coal.
We’re shocked. According to our ‘moderate doomer’ wisdom, peak oil is about now, peak natural gas perhaps in 2025 and peak coal somewhere after 2030.
No such luck.
P.S. we are not 100% convinced this is true, not even close. Technology is a major wild card, making predictions unreliable.
[deepresource] – Fracking is for Amateurs
[source] Braunkohlekraftwerk Niederaußem des Energieversorgers RWE. dpa
Energy consultant Energy Brainpool has conducted a study, paid by Greenpeace, showing that it is possible to immediately switch off no less than 36 lignite fueled power stations (15 GW) with hardly any consequences at all, other than saving 70 million ton CO2/year. Cleaner electricity could be bought elsewhere in Europe and electricity prices would merely increase with 0.6 cent/kWh (24 euro/household/year). The study does recommend to keep a number of these power stations in a ‘strategic reserve’, so they can be switched on again in case of a supply bottleneck.
[spiegel.de] – 36 Kohlemeiler könnten auf einen Schlag vom Netz
[source] Braunkohlekraftwerk Niederaußem near Cologne
Rough estimates of the potential of fracking, as practiced in North-America, are that it can postpone the end of the oil age with perhaps a decade or so.
However, there never has been any doubt that the remaining quantity of fossil fuel, stored in the earth’s crust, is many times larger than the cumulative amount of fossil fuel consumed so far in the entire history. The problem has always been: can we access that fuel in an economic way and the concept of EROEI is the leading indicator to decide if a fuel can be exploited economically. The decisive factor is technology, a very dynamic factor. There are for instance enormous quantities of frozen methane lying around on the ocean floor and now it is beginning to dawn that unbelievable large quantities of coal are waiting to be exploited beneath the North-Sea floor, that could be harvested in gas form:
Scientists have discovered vast deposits of coal lying under the North Sea, which could provide enough energy to power Britain for centuries.
Experts believe there is between 3 and 23 trillion tonnes of coal buried in the seabed starting from the northeast coast and stretching far out under the sea.
Data from seismic tests and boreholes shows that the seabed holds up to 20 layers of coal – much of which could be reached with the technology already used to extract oil and gas.
In comparison: so far the world extracted ‘merely’ 0.135 trillion ton of oil, a small fraction of the coal reserves located beneath the North-Sea. In other words: peak conventional oil may have happened in 2005, but in hindsight it was a completely irrelevant event.
If it is wise to exploit these vast reserves is a different matter altogether. But one thing is certain: the original idea we had when we started this blog over three years ago, namely that fossil fuel could become scarce on relatively short notice, that idea needs to be abandoned. Limiting factors will more likely be: finance, geopolitics, war, environment, climate change; not lack of combustible material. It is likely that there is far more fossil fuel around than the atmosphere can ever handle.
Obviously we do not advocate the grand-scale exploitation of coal underneath the North-Sea, although it is nice to know that we in Europe are perhaps not as dependent on the Middle-East for the duration of the transition. What we do advocate is the exploitation of a limited amount to enable the renewable energy transition to occur, meaning a large wind-turbine next to every village and solar panels on every available roof, combined with large scale hydro-storage in mountain areas. The EU should stick to its original goal of 100% renewable energy by 2050. Again: there is no serious energy problem in the long term. There is an awareness problem.
[dailymail.co.uk] – Vast deposits totalling up to 23 trillion tonnes found under the North Sea
[wikipedia.org] – Coal gasification
[theecologist.org] – ‘Underground coal gasification’ hell-fires threaten Tyneside and the North Sea
[thegwpf.com] – Coal is the new black gold under the North Sea
[resilience.org] – 3000 Billion tons of coals off Norway’s coastline
[thejournal.co.uk] – Drilling date set for North Sea’s vast coal reserves
[walesonline.co.uk] – An estimated trillion tonnes of coal found off Wales’ coast
[heraldscotland.com] – North Sea is the place to be in crude price slump declares entrepreneur
[cluffnaturalresources.com] – Review of UCG technological advancements
[gov.scot] – Independent Review of UCG – Report
[source] – North Sea is the place to be in crude price slump declares entrepreneur
German economics minister Sigmar Gabriel has announced that Germany won’t meet the climate goals set earlier. Reason is that it is not possible to shut off both nuclear AND coal based power stations. The original ambition of lowering CO2 with 40% compared to 1990 needs to be abolished.
The cost of wind power has dropped below the price of coal-fired energy in parts of India (like Karnataka, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh) for the first time as improved turbine technology and rising fossil-fuel prices boost its competitiveness, Greenko Group Plc said. The current cost to build wind farms in India is about $1.25 million a megawatt.