CBM no longer on the nose

ONCE thought of as a useless, dangerous by-product of underground mining, coalbed methane gas is now having its day.
CBM no longer on the nose CBM no longer on the nose CBM no longer on the nose CBM no longer on the nose CBM no longer on the nose

Courtesy CH4.

Donna Schmidt

Published in September 2005 Australian Longwall Magazine

Nowadays coalbed methane (CBM) is proving its worth, environmentally and financially. A recent analysis by the US Environmental Protection Agency Coalbed Methane Outreach Program outlined some of the strides countries are making in the use of coalbed methane, and the future of its use as an alternative to other increasingly expensive fossil fuels.

Coalbed methane projects, according to a recent EPA report, are utilising the trapped gas to both reduce atmospheric emissions and make available a clean-burning, valuable source of energy.

An estimated 13 countries throughout the world now employ these CBM utilisation projects, an effort that has been renewed mainly because of rising costs of energy production and the financial opportunities afforded to such projects in terms of emissions credits. Projects can be found in Australia, China, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Japan, Kazakhstan, Poland, Romania, Russia, the United Kingdom, the Ukraine and the United States.

Among these 13 countries, utilisation is performed at varying levels relating to factors such as the country’s geologic parameters, the industry’s profitability and composition within the nation, the accessibility of technology, the level of government oversight on the industry, the features of the market within the country and access to financial resources.

Three main techniques are used to recover CBM - drained gas, methane from abandoned mines (AMM), and ventilation air methane (VAM).

The Czech Republic, Australia, France, Germany Japan, Poland, the UK and the US are the primary areas where the AMM method is used, and in many cases the methane from an abandoned site is merged with drained methane from active operations.

Currently, Australia is the only country that has VAM capabilities and has actually developed plans for a VAM project.

Currently there are four main end uses for CBM internationally: power generation, pipeline injection (and town gas), flaring, and industrial uses, including vehicle fuel.

By far the most wide-ranging option is power production, according to an EPA study, with at least eight countries worldwide producing CBM-based power. In addition, this energy is also derived from AMM and will soon come from VAM.

The second most popular use is pipeline injection/natural gas distribution.

Flaring is a less popular option and not employed on a widespread basis in any country.

Australia

There are currently 11, and potentially more, CBM projects in Australia at present, including nine that are active and two in development. Of this group, eight are drained gas, five involve internal combustion (IC) power production projects that are engine-based, one flaring venture, one pipeline injection project (upgrade) and one project in development that intends to co-fire waste coal and methane.

Two of the country’s largest CBM projects are power generation endeavours, including a 94MW facility by BHP Billiton and operated by Energy Developments at Illawarra Coal’s Appin and Tower operations in New South Wales. A 32MW complex is also planned for German Creek mine, also by Energy Developments in conjunction with Anglo Coal.

Three of the projects utilise VAM, the most well-known of which is probably the proposed WestVAMP project, a 94MW development at the Appin and Tower Collieries where VAM is used as combustion air within Caterpillar internal combustion engines. Australia has become a leader in the technology through its experiments and usage of the safe and practical innovation; it is expected the commencement of WestVAMP activity will make it the world’s first VAM oxidation and power generation technology operation.

China

China’s past with regards to CBM recovery is vast, from the underground drainage efforts of a half-century past to the surface developments of the early-2000s. In fact, nearly 200 mining operations possessed drainage systems as of 2003.

While CBM is primarily used for boiler fuel at most mines, seven of the country’s projects utilise or plan to utilise drained gas for power generation, including an 11MW project in Shuicheng and a 7MW project in Songzao; production of the country’s largest effort, a 120MW generation facility at Jincheng in the Shanxi Province, is underway.

Germany

With over 40 projects planned or in production, a majority of them have to do with power generation. CBM capture and utilisation is being tapped in Germany, with 26% of the nation’s total gas derived from abandoned mines. Additionally, AMM collection accounts for more than 55% of all of the nation’s current power production.

Russia

Drained gas from active operations is being utilised for five projects in Russia. Thanks to a United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Global Environmental Facility grant, the country may see more projects come to light – beginning with one in the nation’s Kuzbass coal region.

UK

Some 99% of the UK’s total CBM utilised every year is devoted to power generation. The country is currently looking at AMM usage, as the method currently accounts for 72% of all methane-fuelled power generation for the nation’s mines.

Of 27 active projects in the UK, 20 are located at abandoned mines for the purpose of power production.

US

Approximately 34 projects are currently active or in development within the US, 13 of which are at active mines. Of all methane mitigated every year, 79% is pipeline injection and about 20% of the CBM utilised is earmarked for power production.

Most of the CBM used for power originates from one project that mixes active mine drained gas and coal seam methane for two 44MW gas turbines – and the destination operation does not run at full production capacity. A small amount of methane is utilised industrially for end uses such as mine heating, and AMM accounts for less than 0.5% of all US methane alleviated.

What was practically worthless is now an important commodity. While technology has a way to go with regards to CBM innovations, and much progress needs to be made throughout the world with current and upcoming projects, all are essential to the potential of this renewed alternative resource that may fuel all of our futures.

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