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UNDERGROUND COAL GASIFICATION AT
G. G. CAMPBELL, C. F. BRANDENBURG,
'R. M. BOYD, AND T. E. STERNER
LARAMIE ENERGY RESEARCH CENTER
PRESENTED AT THERMAL POWER CONFERENCE,
WASHINGTON STATE UNIVERSITY, PULLMAN, WA
OCTOBER 16, 1975
UNDERGROUND COAL GASIFICATION AT
G. G. Campbell, C. F. Brandenburg,
R. M. Boyd and T. E. Sterner
Laramie Energy Research Center
A second underground coal gasification experiment is being conducted at
the Laramie Energy Research Center's field site near Hanna, Wyoming. This
paper preSents the results from the first phase of the Hanna II experiment
in which coal seam permeability was evaluated, pneumatic linking and linking
via reverse combustion were studied, and in which a sustained gasification
process was maintained between the two linked vertical wells. Air injection
alone did not increase permeability to levels which .JOuld allow sustained
gasification. Reverse combustion linking was determined to be a local,
relatively low temperature process which advanced at a rate of 5 ft/day and
produced a high permeability carbonized path. Subsequent gasification was
maintained over a 38 day period. Overall, injection of 1.9 ~ scf/day of
air yielded 2.7 MM scf/day of gas with an average heating value of 152
Btu/scf. Material balance calculations indicate that 1700 tons of coal in
place were utilized.
Underground coal gasification (UCG) has been the subject of investiga-
tions for more than 100 years (1). The process has been shmm to be
technically feasible, but has been economically unattractive in competition
with petroleum resources. The recent shortages of petroleum fuels have
rekindled interest in research on efficient in situ gasification of coals
in the United States. Russian activities in underground gasification of
coal have been the most sustained (1). Electricity has been generated from
low-Btu gas at several large scale plants in the Soviet Union from sub-
bituminous coals and lignites since 1960. Recently, diminished Soviet
utilization of UCG for energy production is believed due to the discovery
of adequate local petroleum fuel sources. In England, UCG was studied
extensively and field experiments produced processes ,vhich were techni-
cally feasible and nearing commercial utilization but were abandoned in
1959 because they were not sufficiently economical at that time (2).
Similarly, investigations were c6nducted in the United states by the Bureau
of from 1946 to 1959 (3-6) and by Gulf Research in 1968 (7). These
studies were also discontinued for lack of immediate need and economic
The Bureau of Mines started a reassessment of UCG in 1971 (1). This
study showed that a renewed field effort was appropriate. A field site near
Hanna, Wyoming, was selected and the Hanna I experiment was conducted be-
tween March 1973 and March 1974 (8-10). Tne Hanna I experiment showed that
western subbituminous coals were suited to underground gasification because
they are generally thicker, more permeable and more reactive. Tne Hanna I
experiment also showed that a low Btu gas, 125 Btu/ft
; could be produced
for an extended period.
A second field experiment, Hanna II, was designed to answer questions
generated by the. first experiment and to include an expanded instrumentation
effort. The instrumentation was provided by the Sandia Laboratories and
included thermal, acoustic and resistivity measurements.
Hanna II is now being conducted in three phases: Phase 1, an experi-
ment to examine pneumatic and combustion linking of wells to conduct a
limited gasification test, and to evaluate instrumentation; Phase 2, two
two-well burns to gasify coal berween an injection and production well in
preparation for the third phase, a line-drive burn to gasify coal along a
60 foot combustion front.
A basic problem in underground coal gasification is the formation of an
underground reaction vessel before actual gasification of the coal. This is
necessary because the permeability of the virgin coal is too low to allow
gasification by either a forward or a reverse combustion process. Various
approaches to underground gaSification differ mainly in the technique used
to create the necessary permeability. These techniques include mining,
directional drilling, fracturing, electrolinking and combustion (1). The
Hanna experiments use the combustion oriented vertical well technique.
In this concept, the reaction vessel is prepared by generating a permeable
path through the coal seam between adjacent vertical wells by reverse
The Hanna II experiment is being conducted on a site near Hanna, Wyoming,
at a location approximately 700 ft west of the site of the Hanna I experiment.
The location and geology of the formation have been described previously
(8,9,13). The ceiling of the thirty-foot-thick coal seam lies at a depth
of 275 it compared to a depth of 400 ft in the Hanna I experiment.
The surface layout of the eight wells for Phase I of the Hanna II
experiment is shown in Fig. 1. Wells I, 2, 3, and 4 were cased injection
and production wells. The original experiment plan called for Wells 2, 3,
and 4 to be on a 60 ft radius from Hell 1; however, the original Well 3 was
plugged and abandoned due to a parted casing and cement bonding proble1!lS.
Wells AA, BB, CC, and DD were 'instrumentat,ion wells containing thermocouples,
geophones, resistivity probes, and a gas sampling canister.
Wells 1, 2, and 4 were drilled two-thirds of the way through the coal
seam and 6 in diameter casings were ,set at this level and cemented with high
temperature cement containing 35% silica flour. After cementing, the hole
was reentered and drilled out to the bottom of the coal, seam., The second
Well 3 was drilled out to a level 15 ft below the bottom of the coal seam and
the 61n casing set at this level. After cementing with high temperature
cement, the casing in the bottom third ,of the coal, "as' perforated with 4
perforations per ,foot. This completion method, with access to only the
bottom third of the coal seam, was intended to confine the linkage pathway
in the lower portion of the seam.
The air injection and gas production facilities used for the experiment
are shown schematically in Fig. 2. All static and differential pressure,
and temperature measurements were made with electronic transducers. The
signals from these sensors were recorded with a system built around a mini-
computer. Computer software was developed so that both injection and
production flow measurements were calculated at five minute intervals from
which;,hourly average flow parameters were obtained.
Phase 1 was planned as a preliminary experiment (11). For this reason,
the temperature sensing array, shown in Fig. 3, was sufficient to provide
only limited spatial resolution in the vertical direction and to observe
typical thermal histories at isolated points. Such a sparse array does not
allow clear definition of the velocity and direction of reaction zone propa-
gation, the horizontal location of linking paths, nor the lateral extent of
the reaction zone at any horizon.
,Phase 1 of the Hanna II experiment was conducted in the following
sequence: (1) air injection tests to determine the permeability and
directional flow characteristics of the coal seam and to attempt to create
a pneumatic link, (2) ignition and formation of a link by reverse combustion,
and (3) sustained gasification in a forward burn mode.
DIRECTIONAL PERHEABILITY AND PNEU¥.ATIC LINK TESTS
Since the flow of air through the natural fractures in virgin coal is
an important parameter during linkage, the Hanna II experiment was designed
to evaluate not only the directional permeability under seam conditions but
also to evaluate permeability enhancement via continued air injection through
the seam without combustion (pneumatic linking). Based upon directional
permeability measurements and visual analysiS of an oriented core taken from
WeIll, Well 2 was located from WeIll along the major fracture direction of"
the coal, Well 3 was located along the minor fracture direction, and Well 4
was located 100 from the major fracture direction. This is shown in Fig. 1.
The measurement of the directional flow of air from WeIll to Wells 2,
3, and 4 was conducted April 7-16, 1975 (Julian days 97 'to 106; reference
January 1, 1975). The injection pressure and injection rate during this
period are shown in Fig. 4. The injection pressure was maintained below the
overburden pressure to prevent pneumatic fracturing. The average air pro-
duction rates of Wells 2, 3, and 4 during this period were 2,30, and 9 scfm,
respectively, clearly indicating preferred flow in the direction towards
Well 3. This coincides with the updip and minor fracture direction of the
coal seam--Fig. 1 (13). This directional flow portion of the experiment was
prematurely halted when Well CC showed signs of leakage. Air injection was
switched to Well 3 in order to reduce the pressure at Well CC.
Air injection was initiated at Well 3 on April 17 (107), and was
continued for 31 days--Fig. 4. Injection pressure was increased progressive-
ly over a five day period, then held steady at approximately 225 psig during
this experiment. At constant pressure, the injection rate increased only
slightly. However, the air recovery rate was approximately 40 to 50 percent.
Two wells are considered to be linked when injection capacity is at least
1000 scfm of air at pressures of less than 50 psig.
IGNITION AND REVERSE COMBUSTION LINKAGE
The slightly enhanced permeability observed during the pneumatic linking
phase was judged inadequate to provide sufficient flows for gasification.
Such permeabilities and resultant flows can be obtained by reverse combustion
as demonstrated in the Hanna I experiment (10).
The coal was ignited in the lower 10 ft of 1-1ell 1 with air injection
into Well 1 and Well 3 open for production--Fig. 5b. A 24 Kw electric heater
was used to achieve ignition. Injection and production flows during this
ignition phase are shown in Fig. 6. The temperature of the heater shell
was maintained between 800° and 10000F from initiation of heating on May 21
(141) until Hay 25 (145). Hithin 12 hours after initiation of heating, an
abrupt increase in C02 content of the gas produced from Well 3 indicated
that combustion had been initiated. As indicated in Fig. 6, injection and
production rates both decreased during this period even though the air
injection pressure increased to 270 psig. This decreasing flow behavior was
typical of prior attempts to effect forward combustion in a coal seam without
preliminary permeability enhancement.
In the second step of combustion linking, flow is reversed to achieve
the reverse combustion mode--F·ig. 5c. The flow of the oxidizing air through
the fissure structure toward the ignite,d region progressively reacts with
the coal at the exposed faces near the burning region, thus enlarging the
flow cross-section along local paths.
The downhole heater was removed from Well 1 and air injection into
Well 3 was begun to initiate formation of a link by reverse combustion. The
flow parameters of the system during this period are shown in Fig. 7. The
injection pressure during this period was main.tained between 240 and 270
psig. The initial air injection rate was about 50 scfm; this rate gradually
increased to almost 90 scfm by June.3 (154). The gas production during this
period increased gradually until, on June 1(152), the produced'gas rate
exceeded that of air injection.
A nitrogen balance ratio (nitrogen in the produced gas versus the
nitrogen injected) during ,this period ranged from 40 to 80%. Some nitrogen
loss to the formation was expected due to the high injection pressure. The
oxygen content.of the. produced gas ranged from 1 to 2%; indicating that a
small .amount of inj ected air bypassed thereac tion zone. The overall gas
composition of produced gas during this period was like that of Hanna I and
is shown in Fig. 8.
The'completion of linkage is a sudden and dramatic occurrence. It is
evidenced .by an abrupt increase in inject,ion and production rate and decrease
in injection.pressure as was observed in this work and as reported previously
(12). An hourly plot of inj ection pressure and flow rate is shown in Fig. 9,
and, shows. a drop from 220 to 141 psig ,at 0900 on June 4 (155). The 500 cfm
plateau in the flow rate resulted from the limited flm. capacity of the
single air compressor on line at the time of linking. The addition of another
compressor resulted in the increase in pressure and flow rate at 1400 hours.
The injection pressure continued to decrease over an additional period, but
linkage v,as virtually complete after 15 hours. As shown in Fig. 8, a distinct
change in the product gas composition also occurs upon linkage: CO, H2 and
CHI.! all increase and the concentration of CO exceeds, tha t of ;C02'
This linking process utilized 33 Mscf of air injected pe.r lineal foot
of linkage, the same quantity utilized during the Hanna I experiments. This
is less than the Russian experience for which values of 80-240 Hcf/ft have
been reported ,(14). Haterialba1ance calculations (10, 15) during the
1inkipg.process indicate that a total of 15.1 tons of coal in, place were
Upon linking, the increased flows were sufficient to sustain gasifica-
tion. The same injection and production wells ,.ere used, and the differences
from the preceding step were only in the flow parameters and changes in the
coal seam produced by combustion linking. The reaction zone proceeded from
Well 3 toward \.Je1l 1 in a forward burn mode with the reaction air flowing
both along the reaction surface and through the reaction: zone into the
unreacted c.oal. The geometry of the burn front' was dictated by the permeable
link and .was affected by the relative flow resistance of the linking path and
the less permeable but larger area of the unreacted coal.
The gasification phase of the experiment was continued for 38 days from
the time of linking. During this period, the air injection rate usually
exceeded 1000 scfm (1.4 MMscf/day) and gas" production rates were generally
greater than 1.4 times the air injection rates. The average daily flow
conditions during that period are shown in Fig. 10. This figure shows that
the injection pressure gradually decreased during the course of this experi-
ment. Occasional variations in the injection rate reflected deliberate or
unavoidable operational changes. Significantly, none of the variations of
flow observed at the surface resulted "from subsurface conditions peculiar
to the in situ oblique forward bu"rn" reactor system, but.were the result of
operational changes in air compressor equipment.
Measured and calculated values for the gas produced are both shm-m in
"Fig. 10. There are inherent difficulties in accurately measuring the flow
rate of a gas containing unknown and variable quantities of water and tar.
It is felt that the flow rate calculated from a nitrogen balance and assuming
zero leakage, as was observed in Hanna I (9), gives a more realistic value of
the gas production rate.
The daily average compositions of the produced gases are shown in Fig. 11.
The daily average gross heating value and product temperature are given in
Fig. 12. The overall average gas composition for the gasification phase is
found in. Table 1. This gas composition is similar in most respects to air-
blown producer gas (16). Table II presents a summary of the average
operational parameters during the gasification phase.
The quantity of affected in place coal was calculated by a material
balance method used previously by Elder (15) and was also used for evalu-
ation of the Hanna I experiments (10). Daily material balance results for
the gasification phase are presented in Fig. 13. The analysis assumes that
the in situ coal reaction occurs in two steps: Carbonization followed by
gasification. The method. is based on the stoichiometric difference between
carbonization and gasification products. Only the carbon, hydrogen, and
oxygen are considered in this calculation and a steady state reaction is
assumed. The calculated amount of "coal-carboni zed-only" includes that
portion of coal from which only the carbonization products have been removed
prior to complete gasification. Although variations of production rate were
experienced, the calculated material balance is considered to offer a good
approximation of the amount of coal utilized. From this analysis, the total
amount of coal affected during gasification \Vas 1000 tons (moisture and ash-
free) which corresponds to about 1700 tons of in situ coal. Of· the 1000 tons,
total, 500 tons w-erecarboriized, and 500 tons ","lere gasified completely.
This first phase of the Harina II experiment utilizing the linked vertical
well technique has again demonstrated the technical feasibility of lli"i.der
ground coal gasification and has been helpful in developing a description
of the basic process parameters involved.
Evidence from this experiment suggests that the dip direction, as well
as the fracture direction, play an important role in determL,ing the
preferred directional flow of air injected into the Hanna I coal seam.
An attempt to create a link between adjacent wells sufficient to sustain
gasification simply by air injection was not feasible. The ability to effect
a linkage by reverse combustion in a reproducible and dependable manner has
During the 38 day gasification period, injection of 1.9 MMscf/day of
air yielded 2.7 MMsef/day of produced gas with a heating value of 152 Btu/scL
Material balance calculations indicate that 1700 tons of coal in place were
utilized. Two.features distinguished the gas production in this experiment:
the heating value of product gas was both relatively high, 152 Btu/scf, and
relatively uniform over the life of the experiment. Both factors favorably
The author thanks all personnel of the Laramie Energy Research Center
and Sandia Laboratories associated with various aspects of this field
experiment. Special acknowledgment is given to the Rocky Mountain Energy
Company, a subsidiary of the Union Pacific Railroad, for the use of their
land as the test site at Hanna, Wyoming.
.1. A. D. Little, Inc. itA Current Appraisal of Underground Coal Gasifica-
tion." Report No. C-73671, Dec. 1971, 121 pp.
2. Sir Alexander Gibb and Partners, The Underground Gasification of
Coal, Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons, ,London (1964).
3. Dowd, J.J., J.L, Elder, J.P. Cohen.
Gasification of Coal, Gorgas, AL."
·"Experiment in Underground
BuMines RI 4164, Aug. 1947,
4. Elder, J.L., M.H. Fies, H.G. Graham, R.C. Montgomery, L.D. Schmidt,
and E.T. Wilkins. "The Second Underground Gasification Experiment
at Gorgas, AL." BuMinesRI 4808, Oct. 1951, 72 pp.
5. Capp, J.P., J.L. Elder, C.D. Pears, R.W. Lowe, K.D. Plants and
M.H. Fies, "Underground Gasification of Coal--Hydraulic Fracturing
as Method of Preparing a Coalbed." BuMines RI 5666, 1960, 50 pp.
6. Capp, J.P., and K.D. Plants, "Underground Gasification of Coal with
Oxygen-Enriched Air." BuMines RI 6042, 1962, 14 pp.
7. Raimondi, P., P.L. Terwilliger, and L.A. Wilson, Jr., "A Field Test
of Underground Combustion of Coal, " SPE4.J13, presented at the
Eastern Regional Meeting of the SPE of AIME, Pittsburgh, Penn.,
Nov. 7-9, 1973, 11 pp.
8. Campbell, G.G., C.F. Brandenburg, and R.M. Boyd, "Preliminary
Evaluation of Underground .Coa1 Gasification at Hanna, Wyoming,"
BuHines TPR 82, Oct. 1974, 14 pp.
9. Schrider, L.A., J.\.[. Jennings, C.F. Brandenburg, and D.D. Fischer,
"An Underground Coal Gasification Experiment, Hanna, Hyoming,"
SPE 4993, presented at the SPE Fall Meeting of AIME, Houston, TX,
Oct. 6-9, 1974, 25 pp.
10. Brandenburg, C.F., D.D. Fischer, G.G; Campbell, R.M. Boyd, and
J.K. Eastlack, "The Underground Gasification of a Subbituminous
Coal," presented at the Div. of Fuel Chem., Am. Chem. Soc. National
Spring Heeting, Philadelphia, PA, Apr. 1975, 11 pp.
11. Brandenburg, C.F., R.P. Reed, R.M. Boyd, D.A. Northrop, and
J.W; Jennings, "Interpretation of Chemical and Physical Measure-
ments From an In Situ Coal Gasification Experiment," SPE 5654,
presented at the SPE Fall Meeting of AIME, Dallas, TX, Sept 28-
Oct. 1, 1975, 28 pp.
12. Kreinin, E.. and M. Revva, "Underground Gasification of Coal"
Kemerovskoe Knizhnoe Izdatel'stvo, 1966, 85 pp.
13. Schrider, L.A., C.F. Brandenburg, D.D. Fischer, R.M. Boyd and
G.G.- Campbell, "The Outlook for Underground Coal Gasification,"
presented at the 1975 Lignite Symposium, Grand Forks, ND, May 1975.
14. Lavrov, N.V., G.O. Nuginov, D.K. Semenenko, "Results of Studies of
Underground Gasification of Brown Coal," Khimiya Tverdogo Top1iva 1
15. Elder, J.L., M.H. Fies, H.G. Graham, J.P. Capp, and E. Sarapuu,
"Field-Scale Experiments in- Underground Gasification of Coal at
Gorgas, Alabama; Use of Electrolinking-Carbonization as a Means
of Site Preparation," BuMines RI 5367, October 1957, 101 pp.
16. Fischer, D.D., and L.A. Schrider, "Comparison of Results from
Underground Coal Gasification and From a Stirred Bed Producer,"
presented at the National AIChE Heeting, Houston, TX, Har. 16-20,
1975, 34 pp.
Overall Average Composition of Product Gas
CO 14.7 Ar. 0.6
Average Operational Parameters
Heating Value of Gas (Gross) 152 Btu/sci
Daily Gas Production 2.7 MM scf
Daily Air Injection 1.9 MM scf
Daily Btu Production 420 MM Btu
Ratio: Heat/Air Volume 223 Btu/sci
o 10 20
30 40 feet
H I I
WELL PATTERN; PHASE OF THE
HANNA II EXPERIMENT
. . ,11--0
"" "" , ,
~ - - 1 r _ - ,
o 10 20 30 40
AI R INJECTION
FIGURE 2, - SCHEMATIC OF SURFACE PIPING
WELL 3 WELL 1
8 30' COAL
52.5 45 30 15 0
FEET FROM WELL I
- CROSS SECTION OF WELLS 1, CC, DD,
AND 3 SHOWING WELL COMPLETIONS AND
INJECTION INTO WELL
~ 1 5 0
PNEUMATIC LINK TEST
INJECTION INTO WELL 3
- I' ~ "
""" -- \ I ' ...... ""... "
...,/ \ /
/'- _/ \.I--FLOW RATE
01 1 I I I I I I I I -.-10
95 100 105 110 115 120 125 130 135 140 145
JULIAN DAY, 1975
FIGURE 4. - DIRECTIONAL PERMEABILITY AND PNEUMATIC LINK TESTS
(A.) Virgin Coal (low
HIGH PRESSURE GAS
AIR INJECTION PRODUCTION
(C.) Combustion Linking
Front Proceeds to
Source of Air
-ION .l1'4 u t:.l- TION
~ C B E L
'-= .. HE
(B.) Ignition of Coal
--tl-I ~ I
(D.) Linkage complete
when combustion zone
reaches injection well
(system ready for
FIGURE 5. - SEQUENCE OF EVENTS IN LINKAGE BY REVERSE COMBUSTION -.'
I a::: 50
INJECTION RATE INTO WELL 1
~ 4 0 ~
AT WELL 3
FIGURE 6. - FLOW PARAMETERS DURING 'IGNITION
0E-"3 T · · ~ · ; · = ~ I -=- Jo
145 150 155
JULIAN DAY, 1975
FIGURE 7, - FLOW PARAMETERS DURING LINKAGE VIA REVERSE COMBUSTION
20t __ L
___ ---- --
8 10 ________________________ _____________ ---------·------
FIGURE 8. - PRODUCED GAS COMPOSITION DURING LINKING
AND EARLY GASIFICATION
JULIAN DAY. 1975
FIGURE 9. - FLOW PARAMETERS AS LINKAGE WAS ATTAINED
--.. ~ ...
I' \ ~
~ ~ ... ~
-- .. \
.... _ .........
/ ........... · ... <:...AIR INJECTION RATE
.... .. "
.... ~ ..... -
~ - -....
OLI ____ -L ________ L _ ________ ________ _L ________ __ . ________ L_ ________ _L ________ __
152 155 160 165 170 175 180 185 190 192
JULIAN DAY. 1975
FIGURE 10. - AVERAGE FLOW PARAMETERS DURING GASIFICATION TEST c,
o ~ _
H2\.... ___ _
~ IOr·· ............. ···· .... ·· ...... ·· ..... <··· ............ ·· .. · ........ .
w r CO
~ ~ ............. ..
U OIL ______ L-____ -L ______ ____ ~ ____ ~ ~ ~ ____ ~
155 160 165 170 175 180 185 190 192
JULIAN DAY, 1975
fIGURE 11. - AVERAGE COMPOSITION Of THE GASES PRODUCED
DURING GASIfICATION TEST
TEMPERATURE ~ ,-----/ \ ~ /
'---- / \ I
~ . . \ r-../ \ I
".. \ I ""' .....
,,...' ........... _, /' ,/ \ I
/ \/1 I V
r.... ,,/" \1 \ .,/
,_/ >I \ ,/'_- ____ -
01 I I I I I I I I 10
152 155 160 165 170 175 180 185 190 192
JULIAN DAY, 1975
FIGURE 12. - AVERAGE HEATING VALUE AND TEMPERATURE OF THE
GASES PRODUCED DURING GASIFICATION TEST
o COAL CARBONIZED ONLY
E223 COAL COMPLETELY GASIFIED
01 ~ ~ 1 r 1 r r 1 r L r r r r r r r r r f L r r r r r i
155 160 165 170 175
JULIAN DAY, 1975
FIGURE 13. - MATERIAL BALANCE CALCULATIONS, DURING GASIFICATION TEST
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