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MATHEMATICAL

MODELING FOR
UNDERGROUND
COAL
GASIFICATION
MATHEMATICAL
MODELING FOR
UNDERGROUND
COAL
GASIFICATION

Preeti Aghalayam

MOMENTUM PRESS, LLC, NEW YORK
Mathematical Modeling for Underground Coal Gasification

Copyright © Momentum Press®, LLC, 2018.

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Printed in the United States of America
For Dr Aghalayam Seshiengar Janardan, father, mentor,
and still my biggest support. Hope you will
somehow read my book (and like it!).
Abstract

Underground coal gasification (UCG) is an important technique for future
coal utilization. It has the potential to be a clean technology and to tap
unmineable, deep coal deposits across the world. Commercialization of
UCG has been riddled with a variety of issues, including public percep-
tion and a lack of clear comprehension about underlying physicochemical
phenomena. This book will bridge the gap in knowledge and highlight the
modern findings related to the complex interactions in UCG. With a focus
on the chemical reactions in UCG, and treating the underground coal cav-
ity as “nature’s own chemical reactor”, various mathematical modeling
studies that serve to unravel some of the mysteries of this decades-old
technique will be revealed.

KEYWORDS

cavity growth, chemical kinetics, clean coal technology, coal combustion,
coal gasification, process models, product gas
Contents

List of Figures xi
List of Tables xiii
Acknowledgments xv
1  Introduction 1
1.1  UCG: A Clean Coal Technology 2
1.2  Worldwide Practice of UCG 3
1.3  Role of Mathematical Modeling 8
2  Fundamentals of Underground Coal Gasification 11
2.1  Chemical Reactions and Kinetics 11
2.2  Cavity Formation and Growth 18
2.3  Effects of Heat and Mass Transport 21
2.4  Product Gas Quality 23
3  UCG as a Chemical Reactor 29
3.1  Cavity Models 29
3.2  Geomechanical Models 32
3.3  Predictive Process Models 34
3.4  Models for the Economics of UCG 38
4  Future Outlook 47
References 53
Index 59
List of Figures

Figure 1.1. Total recoverable coal (million metric tons) worldwide
was tabulated, and the countries with the largest reserves
are shown here. The data is from 2016 (Proven Coal
Reserves 2017). 1
Figure 1.2. The CO2 emissions (in million metric tons) due to coal
usage are tracked in this plot for several coal countries.
The trends in CO2 emissions from 2010–2014 are seen
clearly (CO2 emissions from coal consumption 2017). 2
Figure 2.1. Compartment model proposed for UCG cavities
(Daggupati et al. 2011a). 23
Figure 2.2. Various end-uses for the UCG product gas have been
­proposed (based on (Burton, Friedmann, and Upadhye
2009)).24
Figure 3.1. Various factors affecting the COE in UCG and
UCG–CCS plants. 46
List of Tables

Table 2.1.  List of chemical reactions occurring in UCG 12
Table 2.2. Assumed input information regarding pyrolysis reaction
of Wyodak coal (Thorsness, Grens, and Sherwood 1978;
Uppal et al. 2015) 13
Table 2.3. Operating conditions and product gas composition for
­Wyoming coal for surface gasification (Lurgi) and a
large block underground gasification experiment (Rocky
­Mountain 1 trial, using CRIP technology) (Britten and
­Thorsness 1989) 25
Table 2.4. Comparison of operating conditions, experimental
­product gas composition, and simulated product gas
­compositions 25
Table 2.5. Coal quality and corresponding product gas composition
from three laboratory-scale tests conducted recently 27
Table 3.1. Comparison of UCG costs for the three Indian coals
from (Khadse 2015) 42
Table 3.2. Comparison of cost of H2 production via SMR
and UCG in Alberta, Canada (based on
(Olateju and Kumar 2013)) 43
Table 3.3. Comparison of cost of UCG estimates from various
sources in the literature 44
Table 3.4. Impact of various factors on the COE from UCG
(Based on (Nakaten, Azzam, and Kempka 2014)) 46
Table 4.1.  Various important experimental studies on UCG 49
Acknowledgments

I would like to acknowledge Prof Sanjay Mahajani, Dr Anuradda Ganesh,
and IRS, ONGC, Ahmedabad, for the wonderful years of UCG research at
IIT Bombay. Thanks also to the members of the UCG research groups at
IIT Bombay and IIT Madras.
CHAPTER 1

Introduction

Underground coal gasification, or UCG, is proposed as a clean coal tech-
nology for the future. While there has been some practice of UCG in
recent history in Russia (Olness 1982) and Australia (Blinderman et al.
2008) the widespread deployment and commercialization of the technique
are still not evident. UCG presents several features that are very attractive
at first glance, and the worldwide communities of proponents of UCG,
while small, are confident about the potential it affords.
The current world reserves of coal are estimated to be approximately
980 billion tons. The United States of America, Russia, China, Australia,
and India top the charts as far as the estimated reserves of coal are con-
cerned. Recent data collected by the U.S. Energy Information Administra-
tion is indicated in Figure 1.1.
It is estimated that the coal reserves worldwide are likely to last
approximately 100 years at the current rates of usage (Worldcoal 2017).

3,00,000

2,50,000

2,00,000

1,50,000

1,00,000

50,000

0
na

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Figure 1.1.  Total recoverable coal (million metric tons) worldwide was tab-
ulated, and the countries with the largest reserves are shown here. The data
is from 2016 (Proven Coal Reserves 2017).
2  •   MATHEMATICAL MODELING OF UCG

8,000
7,000 2010
6,000 2011
5,000 2012
4,000 2013
3,000 2014
2,000
1,000
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Figure 1.2.  The CO2 emissions (in million metric tons) due to coal usage are
tracked in this plot for several coal countries. The trends in CO2 emissions from
2010–2014 are seen clearly (CO2 emissions from coal consumption 2017).

The continuing dialog on clean coal technologies is, thus, more relevant
than ever today. In particular, the pollutant emissions from coal-based
technologies are under significant discussion. In Figure 1.2, the increase in
CO2 emissions during 2010–2014 is documented, based on the available
data. The alarming rises in CO2 emissions in China and to a lesser extent,
in India, are seen. The technologies of coal usage directly impact these
emissions, and in the recent past, several improvements have been made.

1.1  UCG: A CLEAN COAL TECHNOLOGY

UCG is proposed as a clean coal technology for the future due to the var-
ious inherent advantages it presents. First, UCG permits the exploration
of deep coal deposits, which may be otherwise unsuitable for mining. For
example, for India, this represents a 30 percent increase in available coal
resources. Second, the technology for the practice of UCG is well devel-
oped now due to the various efforts over the years, including in the area
of oil exploration. The lack of need of mining presents another advan-
tage—that the costs—both environmental and otherwise—of transporting
mined coal from the resource location to the plant are avoided. The nature
of the coal itself has some, but not a significant, impact on the nature of
the gases produced by UCG; thus, it can be used across the board for coals
Introduction  •  3

of different ranks, lignites, high-ash deposits, and so on, without tech-
nological road blocks. The reductive nature of the underground reactive
environment also ensures that NOx, SOx formation is minimal in UCG, as
compared to surface gasification.
Apart from the other advantages of efficiency and reduced pollu-
tion, an important distinguishing feature of UCG for conventional coal
utilization technologies is that it renders itself very well to Carbon
Capture & Sequestration (CCS). In fact, Friedmann and co-workers
(Friedmann et al. 2009) report, based on their study that greater than
75 percent of the upcoming UCG projects are located within 50 km
of saline aquifers, which are suitable locations for CO2 sequestration.
Some proximity to depleted oil and gas fields, enabling the use of CO2
produced by UCG for enhanced oil recovery (EOR), is also clearly indi-
cated in this survey.
Despite the numerous advantages, the practice of UCG is not wide-
spread and commercialized worldwide at this time, mainly due to the
extremely complex technological aspects associated with it and the atten-
dant high investment costs. Furthermore, the physico-chemical phe-
nomena associated with UCG are very involved. Certain environmental
concerns including the polluting of nearby aquifers and the potential for
surface subsidence are evident. Numerous agencies and research articles
from Europe, Asia, the United Kingdom, and the United States over the
past 50 years are, however, indicative of the worldwide interest in UCG. It
is hoped that, in the future, the challenges of UCG will be overcome and
the immense potential of the technology will be harnessed for the benefit
of mankind.

1.2  WORLDWIDE PRACTICE OF UCG

A recent review article also presents a number of details of worldwide
progress in UCG (Yang et al. 2015), whereas an earlier article provides
an in-depth summary of the outcomes of various worldwide projects
(Shafirovich and Varma 2009). Although a handful of commercial UCG
projects were successfully implemented in the recent past, there are many
issues pertaining to safety and the perception of safety that drive various
governmental policies worldwide. A cautionary approach is evident from
financial institutions, investors, and technology companies in the outlook
toward UCG. Current UCG explorations are, thus, aimed more toward the
development of a knowledge base on UCG. In this section, a summary of
the worldwide practice of UCG as of the current day is presented.
4  •   MATHEMATICAL MODELING OF UCG

AUSTRALIA

The Linc Energy pilot plant in Chinchilla, Australia, successfully pro-
duced syngas for three years and converted 35,000 tons of coal prior to
controlled shutdown and restart at Chinchilla, Queensland. Five UCG
reactors were tested in a gas-to-liquid pilot plant for diesel fuel (Yang et al.
2015). Carbon Energy Limited gasifier at Blood Wood Creek, Queensland,
demonstrated ignition in 2008 in an attempt to supply syngas to a 5-MW
power station (Duan et al. 2016). The efforts in Australia are currently at
a standstill due to the issues arising at Kingaroy where Cougar Ltd. were
planning to operate (The Chronicle 2017).

BANGLADESH

Some preliminary articles regarding the importance of UCG for Bangla-
desh and the potential for it in some of the deeper mines in the country,
including the 600–1,000 m deep Jamalganj mine, have recently been
published (Sajjad and Rasul 2015; and Nakaten, Islam, and Kempka
2014).

BELGIUM

One of the deepest deposits that have been explored for UCG has been
at the Thulin site in Belgium. A successful gasification experiment was
conducted in the Leopold-Charles double seam located at approximately
860 m depth, in the late 1980s. Analysis of post-burn drillings was used
to evaluate some aspects of the pyrolysis and gasification reactions
­(Chandelle et al. 1993).

CANADA

A demonstration plant in Western Canada was developed in 2009, which
successfully established UCG (or in-situ coal gasification, as they called it)
for a very deep mine (1,400 m) (Swanhills 2016). It is clear that ­Alberta’s
proven coal reserves as of 2010 exceed 36 billion tons, and a considerable
percentage of this is viable for UCG. The demonstration used saline water
instead of fresh water, addressing a key concern about UCG regarding
water utilization. The main application proposed for this location is hydro-
gen production from UCG (Olateju and Kumar 2013).
Introduction  •  5

CHINA

In China, the ENN Pilot in Inner Mongolia demonstrated sustained syngas
production for over 500 days, while an industrial test of UCG and power
generation at the China University of Mining and Technology has demon-
strated 195 successful days of operation in 2010 (Duan et al. 2016). A pro-
posed 50–320m deep abandoned coal mine in Tangshan Colliery in China
has been identified as a potential UCG site. A successful pilot project has
been demonstrated (Yang et al. 2003). A field test for hydrogen production
from UCG in the Woniushan Mine in Xuzhou has also yielded promising
results (Yang et al. 2008). A $1.5 billion value enterprise was launched
recently to explore a coal field in Inner Mongolia, for 1,000 MW of power
generation, via a joint venture. The UCG trials are of great value to China
and partnerships with other countries and foreign companies are envisaged
(Yang et al. 2015).

INDIA

In India, over 100 billion tons of coal and 20 billion tons of lignite are
at depths great than 300 m below the surface, and preliminary economic
analysis indicates that some of these mines may be good candidates
for UCG, for both energy production and chemicals synthesis (Khadse
2015). A detailed laboratory study that mimics UCG operation (Bhas-
karan et al. 2013) reports feasibility analysis for two Indian coals. A soft
lignite sample with high volatile matter and moisture from the Vastan
mine in Gujarat reports a high product gas calorific value of 170 KJ/
mol, whereas a hard coal sample from Nagpur, characterized by low
volatile matter and moisture, yields 69 KJ/mol, in their micro-UCG
experiment. They conclude that the Vastan mine has higher potential
for successful UCG operation. Neyveli Lignite Corporation and Coal
India Limited are also emerging as potential participants in Indian UCG
(Yang et al. 2015).

PAKISTAN

The Thar Coal and Energy Board (TCEB) established a partnership in
2009 to study the feasibility of UCG for 1,200 MW of electric power. A
UCG project using low-grade lignite in the Thar basin was launched in
2010 (Yang et al. 2015) by Cougar Energy (UK). As of current reports, a
syngas purification plant and power generators have been installed, and
6  •   MATHEMATICAL MODELING OF UCG

power production commenced on May 28, 2015 (Powertechnology 2017),
although questions regarding the potential for groundwater contamination
and lack of technical know-how have been raised (Sindhcoal 2017).

POLAND

A systematic analysis of the geological and technological aspects associ-
ated with the practice of UCG in the lignite mines in Poland was under-
taken recently, with the aim of exploiting large coal resources for power
generation. Based on the available worldwide know-how, adapted to Polish
conditions, and with careful evaluation of environmental and safety aspects,
several low-ranked, deep lignite deposits in Poland are proposed as potential
UCG sites (Bielowicz and Kasinski 2015). In a separate study (Kapusta et
al. 2013; and Wiatowski et al. 2012) the experimental mine “Barbara” is
explored for a field test—conducted at 30 m depth for a period of 15 days.
The studies were used to also determine the potential for groundwater con-
tamination in shallow UCG mines. In another 60-day gasification trial in a
460-m deep operating mine “Wieczovek,” it has been successfully demon-
strated that active mines can also be effectively used for the practice of UCG
with appropriate safety measures and cautions (Mocek et al. 2016). Detailed
pilot scale studies have demonstrated conditions for optimal operation
(Stanczyk et al. 2011). These studies are part of a larger effort that is termed
“HUGE” (hydrogen-oriented underground coal gasification for Europe) and
is focused on the development of theoretical and experimental know-how,
environmental and safety aspects for the in-situ production of hydrogen-rich
gas from coal, using UCG (Yang et al. 2015). The results are generally prom-
ising for the practice of UCG in the future in these (and other similar) mines.

RUSSIA

The USSR and Former Soviet Union (FSU) have presented us with a lot
of useful information regarding UCG. The practice of UCG was heralded
here during the 1930s, and several industrial-scale UCG plants were oper-
ated effectively at various locations—Yuzhno-Abinsk (Siberia), Shats-
kaya and Podmoskovnaya (Moscow Region), Lisichansk (Ukraine), and
Angren (Uzbekistan) (Blinderman et al. 2008). In the 1960s as well, as
many as five UCG gas production stations were in operation, with the
Yuzhno-Abinsk facility producing gas for several boiler plants during
1955–1996 (Shafirovich and Varma 2009). The commercial UCG site at
Introduction  •  7

Angren, Uzbekistan, is by-far the best example for UCG, which has gen-
erated more gas than any other UCG facility across the world (Olness
1982). These studies have provided us with several useful results, includ-
ing the development of technology for underground linking, UCG site
selection dos and don’ts, and the importance of environmental monitoring
­(Shafirovich and Varma 2009). Ukraine participated in UCG projects in
Europe in the recent past and a technical institute based in Ukraine has
patented a geo-technology process for obtaining hydrogen by purifying
UCG product gas (Yang et al. 2015).

SOUTH AFRICA

Being a strong coal country, developments in South Africa are followed
with interest, in particular because of the strong base of Coal-to-Liquids
(CTL) here. In a recent review, (Hancox and Gotz 2014) identified two
locations that are being explored as potential UCG sites—the Majuba
­Colliery with bituminous coal, where Eskom is undertaking an economic
validation of UCG and a currently unused Free State coalfield that is 350–
450 m deep (Ergo Exergy 2017). A joint program to commercialize UCG
in South Africa was announced in 2013 by Eskom and petrochemical
giant, Sasol, and is expected to include pilot scale testing, syngas pipeline,
and co-firing of syngas. Success is indicated in the Eskom Majuba project,
producing 100 kW of electricity and gas at a rate of 5,000 m3/hr (Duan et
al. 2016), with co-firing of syngas with coal in the power station (Yang et
al. 2015). Other projects in sub-Saharan Africa have been announced by
Exxaro Resources (an African coal mining company), Linc Energy, and
Africary Holdings (Pvt.) Ltd. (Green 2014).

UNITED KINGDOM

The UK Coal Authority has recently issued provisional exploratory
licenses for off-shore UCG in Firth of Forth, the Humber, and Swansea
Bay (Green 2014), though initiatives including feasibility studies of UCG
have been in place since 2008 (Yang et al. 2015). The relevant energy
and environmental authorities in Scotland, Wales, and England are also
evaluating UCG as a potentially major contributor to their energy supply,
particularly to gain independence from import of fuels. An earlier review
outlines feasibility studies for UCG and carbon sequestration in the United
Kingdom (DTI 2016).
8  •   MATHEMATICAL MODELING OF UCG

UNITED STATES

A detailed analysis of UCG via 30+ pilots spread across bituminous,
sub-bituminous, and lignite coals in the United States during the 1970s,
1980s, and 1990s is provided in (Friedmann et al. 2009). Although none
of the attempts in the United States resulted in a viable commercial ven-
ture, the insights gained from these studies have stood us in good stead.
In more recent articles, the Harmon coalbed in North Dakota has been
analyzed from various viewpoints, to establish the feasibility of UCG. A
positive prognosis has been made in the literature (Pei et al. 2016) based
on an in-depth study of the hydrogeology, geomechanics, and gasifica-
tion reaction aspects. On the commercial side, Linc Energy has acquired a
project in Wyoming (for UCG and Gas-to-Liquids—GTL), and in Cooks
Bay Alaska for exploratory drilling (Yang et al. 2015).

Public perception is an important roadblock on the route to UCG suc-
cess. In fact, in 1998, a proposal for a detailed field trial was proposed by
the Coal Authority of UK, in Silverfield Colliery, an unused local mine in
Staffordshire. Due to mounting public protests, the application was with-
drawn, although the site was, based on the evaluation, eminently suitable
for UCG. A study particularly aimed at evaluating this perception has
yielded several insights that practitioners should keep in mind during the
planning stage of UCG (Shackley et al, 2006). These views along with a
healthy sharing of information from the various partners worldwide in the
field of UCG should hopefully go a long way in ensuring sustained com-
mercial success of UCG in the near future.

1.3  ROLE OF MATHEMATICAL MODELING

Mathematical modeling is important in UCG, perhaps even more so than
other coal utilization processes. The in-situ nature of the reactions, with
coal seams potentially located deep underground, makes the visualization
of UCG a very tough task. Moreover, due to the complex interactions of
chemical reactions, heat effects, mass transport, and so on, it is vital that a
good predictive mathematical model be developed before the practice of
UCG. The number of safety concerns and public policy issues associated
with UCG demand that a clear demonstration of not only the feasibility,
but also the safety of UCG practice in a given location be done prior to
practice. For all of these reasons, mathematical models that delineate the
various features of UCG in as detailed a manner as possible and provide a
Introduction  •  9

predictive proof for the process are vital. Although generic UCG models
are important, it is more critical that specific ones that speak about the
kinetics, efficiency, environmental aspects, and coal utilization amounts
for a chosen coal mine are important. Finally, models that approach the
feasibility study of UCG from the viewpoint of economic viability, in com-
parison with the traditional practices of coal utilization, are also critical.
In the body of literature work so far in UCG, the main aspects that
have emerged with respect to mathematical models are cavity forma-
tion and growth, chemical kinetics, effects of heat and mass transport,
and overall predictive process models that target the product gas com-
position and calorific value. Thermochemical processes in UCG strongly
affect the product gas composition, and research has highlighted that there
is operational similarity between surface gasification in fixed-bed reac-
tors and UCG, prompting much of the work in mathematical modeling
of UCG to be based on surface gasification (Andrianopoulos, Korre, and
Durucan 2015). However, it is clear that a detailed consideration of the
­sub-­surface layout of UCG is important in the development of ­reliable
process models (Andrianopoulos, Korre and Durucan 2015). Due to the
importance of the economics of UCG in underscoring its feasibility, a
handful of models ­targeting the costs associated with UCG-generated
electricity and UCG-produced product gas in specific locations have also
been developed recently (Nakaten et al. 2014). Detailed studies regarding
the ­factors affecting cost of UCG product gas is another direction that has
been explored (Nakaten, Azzam, and Kempka 2014).
Index

A I
ABAQUS, 33 India, 5
ASPEN PLUS-based model,
37–38 L
Australia, 4 LBK field trial, 25, 30

B P
Bangladesh, 4 Pakistan, 5–6
Belgium, 4 perfectly stirred reactors (PSRs),
23
C plug flow reactor (PFR), 23
Canada, 4 Poland, 6
cavity growth, vii predictive process models, 34–38
cavity models, 29–32 process models, vii
chemical kinetics, vii product gas, vii
China, 5
clean coal technology, 2–3 R
clean coal technology, vii Russia, 6–7
coal combustion, vii
coal gasification, vii S
South Africa, 7
D STARS software, 38
discrete element method (DEM) Swan Hills Synfuels, 37
code, 32
T
F Thar Coal and Energy Board
Fischer-Tropsch synthesis, 24 (TCEB), 5
FLAC3D, 33
fluid-thermal-geomechanical U
simulation, 33 UCG models
cavity models, 29–32
G cost estimations, 41–45
geomechanical model, 32–34 economics of, 38
60  •   Index

factors affecting COE in, 46 overview, 1–2
geomechanical model, 32–34 role of mathematical modeling,
predictive process models, 34–38 8–9
sensitivity analysis of, 45–46 worldwide practice of, 3–8
techno-economic assessment, United Kingdom, 7
39–40 United States, 8
underground coal gasification
(UCG) W
advantages of, 23–27 worldwide practice of UCG,
as chemical reactor, 29–46 3–8
as clean coal technology, 2–3 Australia, 4
cavity formation and growth, Bangladesh, 4
19–21 Belgium, 4
chemical reactions and kinetics, Canada, 4
11–18 China, 5
effects of heat and mass India, 5
transport, 21–23 Pakistan, 5–6
experimental studies on, 49–51 Poland, 6
fundamentals of, 11–27 Russia, 6–7
future of, 47–52 South Africa, 7
geomechanical features of, United Kingdom, 7
32–34 United States, 8