Gasification could reinvigorate coal mining – Mast-Ingle

Gasification could reinvigorate coal mining – Mast-Ingle

Coal mining in Africa and in South Africa in particular could provide the key to powering up growth on the continent if the opportunity presented by recent developments in underground-coal-to-gas (UCG) technology is seized and implemented.
Project management consultant and UCG leader Julian Mast-Ingle points out that UCG would make available an additional 45-billion tons of presently unminable coal in South Africa alone, in a process that is safe.
With no personnel required below the surface, UCG involves igniting coal underground with a controlled flow of oxidant gas, such as air and water.
The ignited coal is converted into syngas, which can be used directly as a fuel source or in conjunction with other fuel sources like natural gas, used to power gas turbines to generate electricity.
Mast-Ingle says the application of UCG to generate electrical power provides a rapid and cost effective path to addressing the power supply shortages in South Africa and further afield.
As the primary product, electricity would be fed into the national grid with secondary production including oxygen, nitrogen, potable water, sulphur and coal condensate.
The local beneficiation would reduce foreign exchange use while empowering African nations to become energy self-sufficient.
African Union chairperson Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, speaking at the Junior Indaba in Johannesburg, called on Africa to increase the value add to its natural resources from 15% to at least 30% with particular reference to coal as part of the energy mix and the creation of seven-million jobs.
Mast-Ingle believes that the key to this lies in UCG, which also goes a long way to addressing environmental concerns.
At the same time, it would not cost jobs, as would be the case with nuclear energy, he adds.
At the global forefront of UCG technology development for the past five years within an organization running the only commercially operating UCG project worldwide, Mast-Ingle has overseen the development of the pre-commercial UCG facility in Queensland, Australia, and has managed the first commercial UCG licence.
He sees UCG opening a number of possibilities for countries and companies with the foresight to tick the boxes on cleaner and potentially more economical power supply.
In South Africa, the Eskom pilot plant commissioned in 2007 has run continuously ever since and the design phase for a 100-140 MWE open cycle gas turbine demonstration plant using UCG gas is currently under way.
Having purchased a Linc Energy licence, JSE-listed black-controlled coal-mining company Exxaro is studying a possible UCG project and the Department of Energy (DoE) has, for the first time, recognized the technology by including UCG in recently published regulations on electricity generation.
In China, the National Energy Administration is targeting 50-billion cubic metres of gas from coal within the next four years, which is where the big push for the technology is coming.
China is looking to reduce emissions from coal-fired power plants, find alternatives to natural gas and oil due to escalating and unstable commodity prices and provide greater access to an ever-diminishing resource.
Mast-Ingle is talking to coal mining interests, governments and funding entities that have the capacity for medium-sized to mega projects with significant return-on-investment potential.
The outcomes also hold promising prospects of combining government imperatives with private investment to develop economic hubs that support local communities while delivering investor returns and creating major job opportunities.
Mast-Ingle, who is presently operating out of Australia, is developing relationships with South African specialists in new project strategy development and execution in both the public and private sectors.
Following concerns about South Africa’s insufficient electricity supply, project development company Africary has been working on the 50 MW Theunissen underground coal gasification (TUCG) project, in the Free State, which is in line with the DoE’s coal baseload electricity production proposal.
A report in Mining Weekly in 2014 described the TUCG project as the first step in unlocking the energy potential of the Theunissen coalfield, as it would make use of only five-million tons of coal out of a possible one-billion tons of available coal, Africary director Johan Brand said at the time.
Commercial law firm Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr mining and minerals director Jackwell Feris last year described UCG as a potential game changer for South Africa’s energy sector, as a provider of a cleaner alternative fuel source.
In India, the government has established an inter-Ministerial committee to identify coal blocks suitable for UCG projects as part of the programme to kick-start UCG on the subcontinent.
However, in Australia, the Queensland government in April banned UCG over fears of its environmental impact, with State Development and Natural Resources and Mines Minister Dr Anthony Lynham saying that legislation to ban UCG would be introduced before year-end.