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Enhanced Coal Bed Methane Recovery: Using Injection of Nitrogen and Carbon Dioxide Mixture

M. S. A. Perera and P. G. Ranjith

Deep Earth Energy Lab, Civil Engineering, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia

1 INTRODUCTION

Scientific research in the past few decades has consistently shown rapid global warming related to anthropogenic green- house gas emissions. The threat to humanity posed by this global warming is now widely accepted and urgent action to mitigate climate change has become a global requirement. In 2009, at the 15th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), many countries in the world set absolute greenhouse emission reduction targets (e.g., 5–25% of 2000 levels by 2020 in Australia). As a result, the signatories have committed to action on anthropogenic global warming, involving a significant reduction in rates of greenhouse gas emissions (Buckman and Diesendorf, 2010). However, it is a great challenge to find a responsible means of achieving these greenhouse gas emission reduction targets within the short time frame. Currently, burning of fossil fuels, such as coal and oil, is the main method of energy production in the world, and is known to be releasing huge amounts of CO 2 into the atmosphere. Therefore, the search for new green energy sources is the most promising solution to mitigate the levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases, and natural gas is one of the potential solutions. Between 2005 and 2010, the United States was able to increase its overall power generation by 1.7% (EIA, 2012) while reducing the CO 2 emissions from power generation by 6.1% (EIA, 2012). The United States could achieve this emission reduction through rapid change in the fossil-fuel energy mix, and power generation from natural gas increased by 5.1% and that from coal decreased by 4.8% (EIA, 2012). This shows

Handbook of Clean Energy Systems, Online © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. This article is © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. This article was published in the Handbook of Clean Energy Systems in 2015 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. DOI: 10.1002/9781118991978.hces218

that the development of new fossil-fuel resources to replace dependency on coal has the ability to reduce the world’s CO 2 emissions in the short term. This ongoing shift toward natural gas from coal and other conventional types of fossil fuels to power the world economy has been driven by targeted devel- opment and exploitation of unconventional gas resources. This approach also offers a clear path to greater energy security, as conventional fossil fuels such as oil and coal are rapidly depleting, while meeting the obligations to the UNFCCC. Moreover, development of new unconventional gas resources can be coupled with inexpensive methods for CO 2 sequestration (e.g., enhanced coal bed methane, ECBM) to help advance the economic and environmental competitiveness of the world’s future energy landscape.

  • 2 DEEP UNMINEABLE COAL SEAMS AS NEW UNCONVENTIONAL GAS RESOURCES

Coal mass is a mixture of inorganic minerals and organic material in a complex, three-dimensional network, which has been formed through the biodegradation of plant materials over millions of years and the imposition of various amounts of heat and pressure. This progressive transformation of coal is referred to as coalification. According to the degree of coalification that has been undergone, coal is classified into different ranks, which can be generally identified using its carbon content, where the rank increases with the increasing carbon content. Coal is basically of two types according to the rank: low and high, and low rank coal is subdivided into lignite (brown coal) and sub-bituminous coal and high rank coal is subdivided into bituminous coal and anthracite (Figure 1) (Perera et al., 2011a).

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Efficiency Improvements and Waste Management

Burial pressure, heat, and time

Peat Lignite Sub bituminous Bituminous Anthracite (brown coal) Low rank coal High rank coal
Peat
Lignite
Sub bituminous
Bituminous
Anthracite
(brown coal)
Low rank coal
High rank coal

Figure 1. Formation of different ranked coal.

Table 1. Variation of coal composition with rank.

Coal

Brown Sub-Bituminous Bituminous Anthracite

Property

Coal

Coal

Coal

Moisture content 50–70

25–30

5–10

2–5

(db %) Carbon (db %)

60–75

75–80

80–90

90–95

Volatile matter

45–55

40–45

20–40

5–7

(db %)

Source: Created by the author using data from Durie, 1991.

Coal’s composition, including its content of water, carbon, ash, and volatile matter, varies with its rank (Table 1), and therefore coal mass physical properties, such as strength, permeability, and porosity are also related to the rank. For instance, high rank coals have high strength, low perme- ability, high adsorption capacity, and low porosity. Perme- ability measures the ability of fluid to flow through the coal seam and basically depends on the degree of pore space avail- able for fluid movement. Coal seams are different from other conventional reser- voirs for several reasons: (i) for conventional reservoirs, the relative permeability is not an important factor for gas production as only a small amount of mobile water is avail- able and permeability remains almost constant with pressure reduction. However, for coals, as there is a significant amount of mobile water available, permeability varies widely with pressure reduction, and the maximum production point is available at a very low pressure condition, which can be achieved by dewatering; (ii) a dual porosity system can be found in coal bed reservoirs, which consists of micro pores and macro pores; (iii) as the micro pores are quite small, it is hard for water molecules to enter this particular type of pore, and therefore micro pores in coal mass behave as a store- house for gases, resulting in up to around seven times more gas storage capacity in coal seams compared to conventional reservoirs (Harpalani and Schraufnagel, 1990); and (iv) coal has a well-developed natural cleat system of face cleats and butt cleats, which are orthogonal to each other. Face cleats

contribute more to the overall coal mass permeability as they are continuous, and form pathways of higher permeability than the discontinuous butt cleats (Figure 2). Because of the well-developed cleat system in and the dual porosity of coal seams, they act as naturally fractured reservoirs for gas movement. The movement of gases through the coal seams depends on the permeability of the coal seam cleat system, which is governed by Darcian law and also the intrinsic permeability of the coal matrix, which is governed by Fickain diffusion (Curtis, 2006). The dominant transport mechanism in the coal mass is decided by its physical properties, such as rank, depth, fracture density, moisture content, in situ pres- sure, and temperature. Every coal seam contains different amounts of naturally formed gases formed during the coalification process. These gases include 90% methane and only small amounts of wet compounds such as ethane and butane. The application of continuously increasing pressure in the coalification process causes this naturally formed methane to be trapped in the coal seam and it eventually absorbs into the micro pores in the surface of the coal seam natural fracture system, called cleats (Figure 2). The pressure applied by the surrounding saturated rock layers (hydrostatic pressure) also contributes to holding this methane inside the coal seam (Vishal et al., 2013; Vishal, Ranjith, and Singh, 2013). This coal bed methane (CBM) is exceptionally pure compared to conven- tional petroleum gas, and therefore can be used for commer- cial purposes with little or no treatment (Levine, 1993; Rice, Law, and Clayton, 1993). According to the Sydney Catch- ment Authority (2012), a coal seam suitable for CBM devel- opment should contain high gas content, preferably between 15 and 30 m 3 /t of methane (Scott, 2002), have good perme- ability usually greater than 1 mD (Brown et al., 1996), have sufficient thickness and lateral continuity for easy movement of gas into wells, and be located between 250 and 1000 m below the surface. As CBM has been formed during the coal- ification process, the amount of gas that exists in any coal seam largely depends on its rank, and low rank coal such as

Enhanced Coal Bed Methane Recovery: Using Injection of Nitrogen and Carbon Dioxide Mixture 3

Butt

cleats

Face

cleats

Micro

Darcy flow in cleats Gas diffusion in coal matrix
Darcy flow in cleats
Gas diffusion in coal
matrix
Enhanced Coal Bed Methane Recovery: Using Injection of Nitrogen and Carbon Dioxide Mixture 3 Butt cleats

Cleats

Gas

adsorption

along cleat’s

walls

Coal

matrix

pores

Figure 2. Gas transport process through coal.

lignite has only a small amount of CBM and highest rank coal such as anthracite has the greatest amount. However, anthracite is quite a hard coal (Figure 1) with extremely low desorption ability, and it is therefore quite difficult to produce CBM from it. Therefore, medium rank coals such as bitu- minous coals are used to extract CBM (Levine, 1993; Rice, Law, and Clayton, 1993). The depth requirement is related to the fact that for seams located above 250 m, it is necessary to develop the hydrostatic pressure to keep gas in the adsorbed phase in the coal seam, and therefore produce gas at lower overburden pressure. This results in a considerable amount of gas being lost (Brown et al., 1996). On the other hand, for seams located at more than 1000 m, the overburden pressure is generally too high to allow gas flow, even after the seam is completely dewatered. Originally, CBM production was performed as a safety measure in the coal mining industry, because explosion of gases in coal seams caused many accidents in the early days (Nasvi et al., 2013b). However, CBM recovery began to be used as a method of commercial gas production by 1990 because of the encouragement given by governments all over the world for this nonconventional gas production by the reduction of taxes and other means (Nasvi et al., 2014).

  • 3 CBM PRODUCTION PROCESS

As mentioned earlier, at higher pore fluid pressures, a greater amount of methane (CH 4 ) can be stored in coal seams through the process of adsorption. Therefore, a reduction of the pore pressure should cause this CH 4 to desorb, and the methane can subsequently be produced (Gray, 1987). This pore pressure reduction can be achieved by the pumping out of naturally existing pore fluid (water) through a well drilled into and then along coal seams (a combination of vertical wells and horizontal bore holes). This well system will initially release water and then start to desorb and release gas (mainly methane) through the well, as illustrated in

Figure 3. The produced gas is collected at the surface and separated and harvested as a fuel source (Metcalfe et al.,

1991).

According to Rice and Nuccio (2000), each CBM well goes through three main stages in its production history (Figure 4). During the first dewatering stage, a large quantity of water is pumped out (around 10–30 million L in a year from a production well) to reduce the reservoir pore pressure, and the initial water production is generally much higher than the methane production. However, this water production decreases with time with increasing methane production. In the second stage of stable production, methane production becomes maximum and almost stable, and water produc- tion continuously declines. In the final stage, water produc- tion becomes a minimum negligible amount and methane production also decreases until it becomes uneconomical to produce. The total time is called the economic lifetime of a coal seam for methane production (White et al., 2005). For example, according to BP (2009), many coal seams in the world have around 100 years of economic lifetime at current rates of production. Although the conventional CBM production technique appears simple, it involves many environmental hazards, and the main issue relates to the production of water. Deep coal seams are generally in saturated condition, and therefore it is necessary to pump out thousands of gallons of contaminated water from a single well each day to deplete the pressure inside the coal seam to achieve the methane desorption pressure (Buccino and Steve, 2004). For example, according to Thomas and Beatie (2001), the average water production from a CBM production well in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin in the United States was around 17,000–22,000 gallons/day during the initial years of production. The removal of such a large amount of water from underground causes numerous environmental issues, one of the main concerns being depletion of the water table, which reduces the agricultural productivity of the land, and therefore has a direct influence on farmers.

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Efficiency Improvements and Waste Management

Pump Water CH 4 CH 4 to pipe line Water to disposal Separator Compressor Vertical well
Pump
Water
CH 4
CH 4 to pipe line
Water to disposal
Separator
Compressor
Vertical well
Impermeable rock
Gas
Gas
Gas
Gas
Gas
Gas
Gas
Coal seam
Water
Gas
Water
Water
Gas
Water
Gas
Coal seam
Gas
Gas
Gas
Gas
Gas
Gas
Horizontal
bore hole
Impermeable rock
Submergible pump
Figure 3. Coal seam gas production process. Dewatering Stable Production (production production declining initiating) Methane Water
Figure 3. Coal seam gas production process.
Dewatering
Stable
Production
(production
production
declining
initiating)
Methane
Water
CBM production rate

Time

Figure 4. Production stages in a typical CBM recovery process. Source: Created by the author using data from Rice and Nuccio, 2000.

According to the predictions of the Santos GLNG Project, four bore wells situated in and around the field will cause up to around 7–25 m groundwater level drawdown by the end of 2028 in the Arcadia Valley CBM field in the Bowen Basin, Queensland (Smith and Senjen, 2011). Furthermore, the release of this water onto the ground causes scouring of stream channels, which creates significant erosion and sedimentation, which are harmful to aquatic habitats. In addition, CBM water is highly saline and mixing this saline water with the groundwater may cause the groundwater in that area to be polluted, affecting drinking water and water usage for other activities such as farming (Pasternak, 2001). According to Ross (2012) and Moran and Vink (2010), the total dissolved solid (TDS) concentrations in the water released by the CBM explorations in New South Wales, Australia range from 1100 to 12,500 mg/L, whereas the

normal TDS concentration in good-quality drinking water should be less than 500 mg/L and the TDS of sea water is between 33,000 and 38,000 mg/L (TDS level is used to measure the salinity). This clearly shows the salinity of water produced from coal mines. The Queensland Gas Company (QGC), which is working on CBM production in New South Wales has spent $350 million to treat around 100 ML of water produced from the Chinchilla gas processing plant, one of the largest coal seam gas (CSG) plants in Australia (Smith and Immig, 2011). However, the QGC could not do anything about the 200 tons of salt produced per day with the disposal water from that plant. The production of huge amounts of water is not the only issue with conventional CSG recovery and the extensive time needed for the process also critical, as it may take several

Enhanced Coal Bed Methane Recovery: Using Injection of Nitrogen and Carbon Dioxide Mixture 5

months for the initial production of methane through the wells because of the requirement to release thousands of gallons of pore water. In addition, CBM production affects the shrinking, strengthening, and hardening of the coal struc- ture, which in turn influence its permeability and causes less harvesting of the gas with time. This is because the effect of external lithostatic pressure acting on the coal seam from the surrounding rock masses increases with the reduction of pore pressure inside the coal mass with the reduction of the seam’s pore pressure, which reduces the coal seam’s porosity (Thomas and Beatie, 2001). Therefore, the conven- tional pressure depletion technique used in CBM recovery is inefficient for the production of a commercially viable amounts of methane, even using many wells. For example, according to Gale and Freund (2001), the conventional pres- sure depletion technique cannot recover even 50% of the gas-in-place, as it involves large pressure depletion (around 70–80%), which is generally not practical or economical, resulting in a considerable amount of CH 4 remaining in the seam following current operating techniques. In the light of all these facts, it has become essential to search for new advanced technologies for CBM production to reduce the drawbacks of the reservoir pressure depletion method and recover CBM in a safer and more econom- ical way.

  • 4 CBM PRODUCTION ENHANCEMENT TECHNIQUES

The process of injecting a gas or a mixture of gases into a coal seam with the purpose of enhancing methane produc- tion from it is called ECBM recovery, and to date two main recovery techniques have been tested in the field: CO 2 - ECBM and N 2 -ECBM. These techniques are discussed in detail in the following sections.

  • 4.1 CO 2 -ECBM process

The release of adsorbed methane from coal seams can be assisted by the introduction of a more reactive (adsorptive) gas. Preferential adsorption of the more reactive gas into the coal matrix will eventually cause the existing methane gas to be desorbed. This phenomenon is used in the CO 2 -ECBM production process, where CBM desorption is assisted by the injection of CO 2 into the seam. According to Ranjith et al. (2012), the sorbed phase equilibrium ratio of CH 4 : CO 2 is 1 : 1 and the gaseous state equilibrium ratio is 3 : 1. There- fore, injection of CO 2 into the coal seam does not force the sorbed CH 4 into the gaseous state and the only possible methane production enhancement technique in the CO 2 - ECBM process is replacement of the adsorbed CH 4 in the

Solid Liquid Super critical CO 2 7.38 0.52 0.01 Gas 56.8 0 31.8 Temperature (°C) Pressure
Solid
Liquid
Super critical CO 2
7.38
0.52
0.01
Gas
56.8
0
31.8
Temperature (°C)
Pressure (MPa)

Figure 5. Phase diagram for CO 2 .

coal matrix by the more reactive adsorbing CO 2 . According to Katyal, Valix, and Thambimuthu (2007), CO 2 is preferred over CH 4 in coal mass on the basis that approximately 2–3 mol of CO 2 are retained on the surface of the coal per each mole of CH 4 released from it, and the ratio is much higher for the supercritical state of CO 2 . Therefore, the preferable coal seams for the CO 2 -ECBM process are located deep underground (800–1000 m below the surface) to effec- tively trap the injected CO 2 in the seam, avoiding any CO 2 leakage into groundwater resources and the atmosphere. In such deep locations, the pressure and temperature are gener- ally greater than the critical values of CO 2 (7.38 MPa and 31.8 C), and therefore the CO 2 exists in its high chemically potential and adsorptive super-critical states (Figure 5). According to Curtis (2006), in supercritical condition, CO 2 behaves much similar to water as it has high viscosity and density close to water, and CH 4 behaves similar to the ideal gas with a density close to zero. Therefore, the highly viscose nature of CO 2 contributes to the release of the CBM from the matrix. Therefore, it is clear that the injection of CO 2 , especially in its super-critical state, has greater ability to enhance methane production from coal seams and if performed appropriately, it will also result in long-term sequestration of CO 2 . However, existing research shows that absorption of any kind of gas into the coal mass induces a strain between the adsorbing coal layer and the gas molecules, which is commonly known as coal matrix swelling, and causes the coal mass pore space and eventu- ally, its flow ability for gas movement to be reduced (Perera et al., 2011b,c). CO 2 has a significantly higher potential to absorb into the coal mass compared to other gases such as CH 4 and N 2 and it also creates a higher swelling effect in coal, especially under supercritical conditions (Aziz and Ming-Li, 1999; Gurdal ¨ and Yalc¸In, 2001; Perera, Ranjith, and Viete, 2013b). According to Perera et al. (2011c), the swelling process in coal starts as quickly as within 1 h of CO 2

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Efficiency Improvements and Waste Management

0.005 Super-critical CO adsorption Sub-critical CO 2 adsorption 0.004 0.003 0.002 0.001 0 0 4 9
0.005
Super-critical CO adsorption
Sub-critical CO 2 adsorption
0.004
0.003
0.002
0.001
0
0
4
9
14
Radial strain

Time (h)

Figure 6. CO 2 phase effect on coal swelling. Source: Created by the author using data from Perera et al., 2011b.

injection and causes the seam’s permeability to be signifi- cantly reduced. The coal matrix swelling observed by Perera et al. (2011c) was clearly dependent on the phase condi- tion of the CO 2 , and supercritical-CO 2 -adsorption-induced swelling is up to about two times higher than subcritical- CO 2 -adsorption-induced swelling (Figure 6). This higher degree of swelling created by supercritical CO 2 adsorption reduces the flow ability through coal mass to a great extent by closing the pore space, which consequently increases the tortuosity for CO 2 movement by reducing the coal mass permeability. This has been clearly shown in Perera et al.’s (2011b) study, in which the researchers conducted triaxial undrained tests for a range of injection pressures for fractured coal. The downstream pressure devel- opments were measured to check the phase condition of CO 2 inside the coal mass and plotted against sample permeability to check the phase effect on coal permeability (Figure 7). As illustrated in the figure, there was a significant drawdown in the coal mass permeability for supercritical CO 2 movement compared to subcritical CO 2 , which is probably related to the previously described higher swelling effect created by super- critical CO 2 . Therefore, the injection of CO 2 into the coal seam, specially under the supercritical conditions that exist below certain depth, causes the coal seam’s flow ability to largely reduce, which crucially affects the CO 2 injection and methane production processes in the coal seam and eventu- ally causes a significant decline in the methane production rate after some period of CO 2 injection (Perera et al., 2011b; Viete and Ranjith, 2006). According to existing safety rules, the maximum percentage of CO 2 in coal mines should be around 3% of the mine air volume. Therefore, there is a concern that the injection of CO 2 into coal seams during the CO 2 -ECBM processes creates a safety threat, causing coal seams to be unmineable forever (Sarmah, 2011).

0.01 0.001 0.0001 Sub-critical CO 2 Super- critical CO 2 1E-05 0 5 10 Permeability (md)
0.01
0.001
0.0001
Sub-critical CO 2
Super-
critical CO 2
1E-05
0
5
10
Permeability (md)

Downstream pressure (MPa)

Figure 7. CO 2 phase effect on coal permeability at 25 MPa confine- ment. Source: Created by the author using data from Perera et al.,

2011a.

The industry’s first significant opportunity to check the CO 2 -ECBM process can be found in the Allison CO 2 -ECBM pilot project in the San Juan Basin (Reeves and Oudinot, 2005a; Reeves, 2003). The initial observed permeability in the coal seam was around 100 mD and CO 2 injection was performed while maintaining a constant bottom hole pres- sure condition (2450 psi) to avoid any fracture formation by exceeding the formation fracturing pressure by the injecting CO 2 pressure, and the researchers used injection rate as the controllable factor to achieve this. In this project, although the CO 2 injection caused the CBM production to be signif- icantly accelerated, there was up to around 50% reduction in injectivity during in the first two years of CO 2 injec- tion, mainly because of the porosity reduction associated with coal swelling upon CO 2 injection (Larsen, 2004). This was particularly evident near the well, where the CO 2 pres- sure is high. However, with time gradual increments in CO 2 , injectivity and CBM productivity were observed and the researchers conducted a number of studies to understand this unexpected behavior. According to their analyses, this was because of the fact that as the produced CBM volume was far greater than the CO 2 injection volumes, overall reservoir pore pressure continued to reduce even during the injection, which caused the adsorbed CO 2 near the injection wells to be desorbed and migrate away from the well. This reversed the swelling areas near the injection well to some extent and enhanced the permeability for CO 2 injection, which is clearly favourable for the CO 2 -ECBM process. However, there was an unexpected rapid CO 2 breakthrough in one production well. Although a sudden rise in the CO 2 concen- tration after the breakthrough was expected, it took around 17 months after the initial breakthrough before a second CO 2 breakthrough was observed, and the concentration only rose from its preinjection level of 5% to about 9.5% during 3.5 years. This particular behavior is difficult to explain using the existing theories and probably relates to reservoir hetero- geneity, as there may be several coal layers and only one layer

Enhanced Coal Bed Methane Recovery: Using Injection of Nitrogen and Carbon Dioxide Mixture 7

caused the initial CO 2 breakthrough. This is not the only time that unexpected behaviors have occurred in the CO 2 -ECBM process, as the RECOPOL CO 2 -sequestration field project in Poland also produced similar observations (Pagnier, van Bergen, and Krzystolik, 2006). The coal seam had extremely low (around 1 mD) permeability and very low injectivities at the beginning (200–800 m 3 /day). Therefore, hydraulic fractures were created to enhance the initial permeability and then CO 2 was injected to enhance productivity. Although there was a considerable increment in productivity, an unex- pected quick breakthrough of CO 2 through a production well was observed, possibly because of the existence of a high conductivity pathway, which caused CO 2 to quickly move toward the production well. Such pathways may be natural fractures or permeability heterogeneity and/or anisotropy at a high permeability coal layer and/or its alignment. Such observations clearly illustrate the need for more comprehensive knowledge on the subject as current under- standing of reservoir mechanics during the CO 2 -ECBM process is incomplete, making the process still “unconven- tional.”

  • 4.2 N 2 -ECBM technique

The relatively inert nature of N 2 compared to other CSGs such as CO 2 and CH 4, has been widely recognized in the field (Perera and Ranjith, 2012). N 2 is a relatively nonadsorptive gas and it remains as free gas in the fracture pore space in the coal mass upon injection. According to Ranjith et al. (2012), the adsorbed phase equilibrium ratio of CH 4 : N 2 is around 2 : 1 and the gaseous state ratio is around 1 : 3. Therefore, when N 2 is injected into a coal seam, it replaces all the gaseous state CH 4 from the coal mass, which creates a zero methane partial pressure in the gaseous phase without changing the total pressure, depending on the water production, resulting in disequilibrium in the system. This disequilibrium causes the adsorbed phase CH 4 to be extracted from the coal mass in the gaseous phase to achieve partial-pressure equilibrium and this enhances the CBM production (Reeves, 2003). Theoretically, nitrogen injection accelerates CBM production by the concept of inert gas stripping. The N 2 required for the N 2 -ECBM technique is usually obtained from manufactured gas plants. Interestingly, as N 2 has less adsorptive capacity than the existing CH 4 in the coal matrix, desorption of that CH 4 with the injecting N 2 causes the CH 4 -adsorption-induced swelled areas in the coal matrix to shrink, which also contributes to ECBM production through the increased permeability in the seam (Giasuddin, Sanjayan, and Ranjith, 2013). According to existing studies, for each volume of injected nitrogen, two volumes of methane can be produced, which

implies that coals tend to replace up to 50% of their methane storage capacity with nitrogen (EPA, 2002). For example, N 2 injection caused the methane production rate to increase from 100 to 200 Mcfd to 1000 Mcfd in the AMOCO pilot project in the San Juan Basin (Tiffany Project) (EPA, 2002). However, the N 2 -ECBM technique also involves quicker N 2 breakthroughs in the produced gas due to its freely existing nature inside the seam, which causes the benefits offered by the process to be largely reduced when the higher gas treatment costs are taken into account (Reeves, 2001). The only current long-term N 2 -ECBM field project is in the Tiffany unit in the San Juan Basin (Reeves and Oudinot, 2005b). In this project, the initial permeability of the coal seam was quite low at around 1 mD and injection of N 2 into the seam caused the CBM production to be significantly enhanced, with injectivity improving considerably over time. However, as expected, there was a rapid N 2 breakthrough in the production well, probably because of the fact that injected N 2 exists as free gas in the reservoir pore space. Interestingly, although the spacing between the injectors and producers was the same as that of the Allison unit, the initial gas injection rate was more than ten times higher in the Tiffany unit (3000–3300 Mcfd at around 1600 psi average bottomhole pressure). This superior injectivity of N 2 relates to the lower viscosity of N 2 , which causes a higher rate of gas penetration through the pore space, and partly to the slip flow that occurs because of the Klinkernburg effect (Jasinge et al., 2012; Perera and Ranjith, 2012; Perera et al., 2011b, 2012). However, this may also cause rapid N 2 breakthrough. In addition to the Tiffany unit project, there is a short-term N 2 -ECBM project in the Fenn Big Valley basin in Alberta, Canada (Gunter, 2009). This project has also experienced this quick N 2 breakthrough in a production well. According to current research, the N 2 -ECBM technique can be considered “conventional” because of the simplicity of N 2 injection compared to CO 2 injection into deep coal seams.

  • 5 COMPARISON OF CO 2 -ECBM AND N 2 -ECBM TECHNIQUES

In order to find the optimum technique for the ECBM process, the merits and demerits of the two processes need to be compared in three main aspects: (i) productivity, (ii) risk and environmental impact, and (iii) economical. Each aspect is discussed in the following sections.

5.1 Productivity

Although the N 2 -ECBM process creates quicker and higher CBM production enhancement than the CO 2 -ECBM process,

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Efficiency Improvements and Waste Management

it also causes quicker N 2 breakthroughs, which pollute the CH 4 produced, and therefore creates higher gas treat- ment cost. This is basically because the high pressure gap generated between the injection point and the rest of the coal mass during the N 2 injection process causes the N 2 , which exists as a free gas in the fracture system, to be flushed out of the coal mass, and eventually mix with the CH 4 produced (Giasuddin, Sanjayan, and Ranjith, 2013). On the other hand, if CO 2 injection is considered, although it involves compar- atively slower and smaller CBM production enhancement, there are larger delays in CO 2 breakthroughs in producing CBM compared to the N 2 -ECBM process. This is because injected CO 2 molecules are in the stable adsorbed phase in the coal matrix, and therefore have less chance of being released from the coal mass compared to N 2 . Apart from this, enhancement of CBM recovery through the CO 2 -ECBM process also contributes to the reduction of CO 2 emission into the atmosphere to a great extent (Perera et al., 2011a, 2012; Perera and Ranjith, 2012). However, as mentioned earlier, adsorption of injected CO 2 into the coal matrix causes it to swell by shrinking the fracture network available for gas movement, which greatly declines coal seam permeability and eventually, CBM production. Reeves (2003) compared CBM production enhancement by the CO 2 -ECBM and N 2 - ECBM processes using a numerical model developed for a typical coal seam and produced the critical observation illus- trated in Figure 8. According to Figure 8, N 2 injection clearly creates significantly higher CSG production over 15 years compared to CO 2 injection, as the injection of N 2 at 10 Mcfd/ft causes CSG productivity to increase by around 21% compared to a 4% increment due to the injection of CO 2 at 10 Mcfd/ft. The other interesting observation is the greater sensitivity of injection rate variation to N 2 compared to CO 2 , as CSG productivity is considerably higher for higher injection

pressures for N 2 than CO 2 (at 50 Mcfd/ft injection rate, N 2 has the ability to enhance CSG production by 57% compared to only 29% productivity increment by CO 2 ). Therefore, N 2 injection at high injection pressures appears to be the optimum technique for CBM productivity. However, this needs to be cross-checked with CO 2 and N 2 breakthroughs in the gas produced, as purity is an important factor for CBM production, when the high cost involved in the gas treatment is taken into consideration. Figure 9 compares the CO 2 and N 2 breakthroughs observed in the production of CSG in the Reeves (2003) study. According to Figure 9, during the 15 years of injection, no noticeable CO 2 breakthroughs were observed in the gas produced. In contrast, N 2 injection clearly created quick N 2 breakthroughs in the gas produced, which significantly increased with increasing N 2 injection rates. This is not a favorable effect in terms of the large post-treatment cost required to separate N 2 from the methane. Therefore, in order to obtain optimum productivity while delaying break- throughs, the performance of the two ECBM techniques needs to be combined and a mixture of N 2 + CO 2 needs to be injected (Figure 10).

  • 5.2 Risk and environmental impact

The performance of any enhancement technique should involve minimum environmental impact. With the CO 2 - ECBM process, the main associated risk is the leakage of CO 2 from the coal seam, which can be divided into two broad categories: global and local (Metz et al., 2005). In the global risk, the CO 2 released from the coal seam migrates toward the atmosphere and eventually contributes to critical climate change. In addition, CO 2 leakage may also have negative effects on humans, ecosystems, and groundwater, and such hazards are called local risks. According to existing research,

10,000 1000 Base case 10 Mcfd/ft N 2 injection rate 25 Mcfd/ft N 2 injection rate
10,000
1000
Base case
10
Mcfd/ft N 2 injection rate
25
Mcfd/ft N 2 injection rate
50
Mcfd/ft N 2 injection rate
100
CSG production rate (Mscf/day)
CSG production rate (Mscf/day)

10,000

1000

100

Base case 10 Mcfd/ft CO 2 injection rate 25 Mcfd/ft CO 2 injection rate 50 Mcfd/ft
Base case
10
Mcfd/ft CO 2 injection rate
25
Mcfd/ft CO 2 injection rate
50
Mcfd/ft CO 2 injection rate

2

4

6

8

10

12

14

2

4

6

8

10

12

14

 

Time (years)

 

Time (years)

 

Figure 8. Comparison of performances of CO 2 -ECBM and N 2 -ECBM processes. Source: Created by the author using data from Reeves,

2003.

Enhanced Coal Bed Methane Recovery: Using Injection of Nitrogen and Carbon Dioxide Mixture 9

CO 2 content (%)

70

60

50

40

30

20

10

0

  • 10 Mcfd/ft CO 2 injection rate

  • 25 Mcfd/ft CO 2 injection rate

  • 50 Mcfd/ft CO 2 injection rate

10 Mcfd/ft CO injection rate 25 Mcfd/ft CO injection rate 50 Mcfd/ft CO injection rate
70 10 Mcfd/ft N 2 injection rate 60 25 Mcfd/ft N 2 injection rate 50 Mcfd/ft
70
10
Mcfd/ft N 2 injection rate
60
25
Mcfd/ft N 2 injection rate
50
Mcfd/ft N 2 injection rate
50
40
30
20
10
0
N 2 content (%)

0

2

4

6

8

10

12

14

0

2

4

6

8

10

12

14

 

Time (years)

 

Time (years)

 

Figure 9. Comparison of CO 2 and N 2 breakthroughs. Source: Created by the author using data from Reeves, 2003.

Breakthrough in N 2 -ECBM Breakthrough in N 2 + CO 2 -ECBM N 2 -ECBM
Breakthrough in
N 2 -ECBM
Breakthrough in
N 2 + CO 2 -ECBM
N 2 -ECBM
Breakthrough in
CO 2 -ECBM
N 2 + CO 2 -ECBM
CO 2 -ECBM
Time
CBM production

Figure 10. Optimization of ECBM recovery through combination of CO 2 -ECBM and N 2 -ECBM processes.

predictive models, field observations, and analysis of current CO 2 storage sites, a well-maintained coal seam securely retains more than 99% of injected CO 2 underground for over 1000 years. This period is expected to be much longer, as the risk of leakage likely decreases with time because of trapping mechanisms being activated in CO 2 over time. If a CO 2 leakage occurs because of failure of an injection well, it creates a rapid release (releases may take hours to days) of CO 2 , causing a dangerous hazard for workers and other people close to the site (up to 10% of CO 2 in air may cause death). Nowadays, detecting devices are installed in wells as well as away from the wells to quickly identify such kind of leakage and avoid the hazard and regular checking is also conducted to minimize the possibility of leaks. However, if there is slow and gradual leakage of CO 2 through undetected fractures/faults or a leaking well, such leakage may severely affect the drinking-water aquifers and ecosystems, as there is sufficient time for CO 2 to accumulate in the subsurface before detection. In addition, the leakage of CO 2 into the soil may cause the soil to become acidic and its oxygen to be replaced, both of which create unsuitable environments for

crop growth and soil ecosystems. In addition, if the CO 2 leaks into the atmosphere by any means, it may cause dangerous hazards for human life, especially if the leakage occurs in lowland areas with slight wind as there is more chance of the

leaking CO 2 accumulating. N 2 is a comparatively inert gas and not as hazardous

as CO 2 and therefore, the leakage of some amount of N 2 into the atmosphere through any of the described methods would not create such critical damage to the environment

as CO 2, as almost 80% of the atmosphere is N 2 . There-

fore, there is almost zero global risk associated with the N 2 -ECBM process. Furthermore, mixing N 2 into the soil or atmosphere does not create any noticeable hazard, as under normal conditions nitrogen molecules are held together by strong triple bonds and it is difficult to make nitrate or any other hazardous form of nitrogen (Smil, 2004). However, although the solubility of N 2 in water is negligible, high pressure and temperature conditions and biological reac- tions deep underground may cause some amount of N 2 to be converted into its harmful form, nitrate (NO 3 ), which is easily soluble in water. According to Berner and Berner (1987), mixing of nitrate in groundwater causes contami- nation of drinking water because of its harmful biological effects, and high concentrations of nitrate in drinking water may result in gastric and colon cancers. Therefore, although there is a risk associated with the leakage of N 2 underground during the N 2 -ECBM process, the risk is quite low compared to CO 2 as N 2 solubility in water is quite low. When all the facts are considered, it is clear that there is less environmental risk associated with the N 2 -ECBM process than the CO 2 - ECBM process. On the other hand, although the CO 2 -ECBM process involves a higher environmental risk, this process also assists in protecting the environment by contributing to the mitigation of atmospheric CO 2 level by the geological

10

Efficiency Improvements and Waste Management

sequestration of considerable amounts of CO 2 deep under- ground. According to Katyal, Valix, and Thambimuthu (2007), CO 2 is preferred over CH 4 in coal on the basis that approximately 2–3 mol of CO 2 are retained on the surface of the coal per mole of desorbing CH 4 . Therefore, ECBM can be used to enhance methane production and it will also result in long-term sequestration of CO 2 , which contributes to the mitigation of climate change. Following an exhaustive review of the available scientific and technical information, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has labeled evidence for the recent global warming trend “unequivocal” and stated that the majority of global warming “is very likely because of the observed increase in anthropogenic (greenhouse gas) concentrations.” The threat posed by anthropogenic global warming is almost universally accepted and is now recognized as humanity’s most serious challenge (De Silva and Ranjith, 2013; Dileeka, Ranjith, and Choi, 2010; Nasvi et al., 2013b, 2014; Shukla et al., 2013). Urgent action against climate change is therefore a global imperative. At the 15th UNFCCC, held in Copenhagen in 2009, many developed countries set absolute greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. CO 2 sequestration in coal beds is an attractive means of reducing greenhouse gas emission into the atmosphere and the CO 2 -ECBM process offers an economical method. Stevens (1998) quantified the global CO 2 sequestration and ECBM potential in coal seams located around the world (Table 2) and found that a total of around 39 trillion m 3 of CO 2 could be produced in 27 main coal basins in 14 major countries while sequestrating around 148.3 billion metric tons of CO 2 . This is clearly a huge CO 2 storage potential. However, there is some uncertainty, as the sequestration of CO 2 in underground coal seams clearly limits the future mining of these coal seams. According to the US Geological Survey’s criteria for assessing coal mining resources (Reeves, 2009), when considering the cost and effectiveness, any high rank coal seam (anthracite or bituminous) lying at less than 1830 m depth and thickness higher than 36 cm and any low rank coal seam (lignite and sub-bituminous) lying at less than 1830 m depth and thickness higher than 76 cm is considered as a coal mining resource. Therefore, much deeper seams can be used for the CO 2 -ECBM process (Reeves, 2009). This CO 2 sequestration potential is a unique advantage of the CO 2 -ECBM process over the N 2 -ECBM process. Therefore, the CO 2 -ECBM process has a higher environmental pollution risk through leakage but in other ways would assist in protecting the environment by storing a considerable amount of CO 2 . In contrast, the N 2 -ECBM process has lower environmental pollution risk through leakage, but provides no assistance with environmental protection or CO 2 sequestration.

Table 2. Global CO 2 sequestration and ECBM potentials in deep coal seams.

Country

ECBM (Trillion m 3 )

CO 2 Sequestration (Billion Metric Tons)

USA

9.3

35

Australia

7.8

30

Indonesia

6.3

24

Russia

5

19

China

3.3

13

Canada

3.1

12

Zimbabwe

1.4

5.1

India

1.4

5

France and Germany

0.5

1.9

South Africa

0.5

1.7

Poland and Czech Republic

0.4

1.6

The development of the CO 2 -ECBM process would create a substantial market for CO 2 released by power plants and other industrial sources, which is another means of protecting environment in an economical way. However, detailed anal- ysis is required if the economics of the CO 2 -ECBM or N 2 - ECBM processes are to be understood.

  • 5.3 Economic aspect

The development of any ECBM process is largely dependent on the economics, as this is the attractant for investors. In general, the profit from the ECBM process depends on the value of the gas produced, the cost of production, the cost of transporting the gas and the cost of taxes or CO 2 credits. Of these, the cost of production is the main expenditure. Produc- tion costs depend on the total spend required to produce the gas, including the cost and availability of CO 2 /N 2 , the implementation cost including for drilling and maintaining the wells and horizontal bore holes, and water disposal, and processing costs, including gas purification and water treat- ment. The largest cost is related to the injection of CO 2 /N 2 (Duane, Walter, and Jerry, 2006). According to the Alberta Research Council, a minimum gas price of $2 of per 1000 ft 3 of methane needs to be allocated for CO 2 if CO 2 is available at $1 per 1000 ft 3 in the CO 2 -ECBM process, as at least 2 ft 3 of CO 2 is required to displace each cubic feet of methane from the coal seam (Duane, Walter, and Jerry, 2006). There- fore, the CO 2 -ECBM process is an excellent means of energy production, only if the seam is located near local power plants to enable the supply of sufficient CO 2 efficiently and at a low price for the production (abundant CO 2 available in the power plants for lower cost) and capture (reduced transport costs) processes. The N 2 -ECBM process appears to be more economically viable because of the quantity required for the process, which is around 0.5 ft 3 of N 2 to displace each cubic feet of methane from the coal seam (Reeves, 2003). Reeves

Enhanced Coal Bed Methane Recovery: Using Injection of Nitrogen and Carbon Dioxide Mixture 11

Table 3. Comparison of the economics of CO 2 and N 2 -ECBM processes.

Component

CO 2 -ECBM

N 2 -ECBM

Gas price

$3.00

$3.00

Basin differential

$0.30

$0.30

BTU adjustment (5%)

$0.15

$0.15

Production taxes (20%)

$0.51

$0.51

Gas processing a

$0.50

$1.00

Capital costs b

$0.25

$0.25

Gas costs (CO 2 : CH 4 ratio

$0.90

$0.30

3 : 1; N 2 : CH 4 ratio 1 : 2) c Net profit

$0.39

$0.49

a Gas processing cost for N 2 is double that of CO 2 because of early break- throughs. b Capital costs = $500,000 × 4 (inj wells) = $0.25/Mcf. c Gas costs. CO 2 = $0.30/Mcf × 3.0 = $0.90/Mcf. N 2 = $0.60/Mcf × 0.5 = $0.30/Mcf.

(2003) compared the economics of the CO 2 and N 2 -ECBM processes by roughly calculating the net profit that can be earned by producing 1 Mft 3 of gas from a typical coal seam using four injection wells, assuming the same amount of gas is produced by both processes (see Table 3). Table 3 clearly shows the greater profits associated with the N 2 -ECBM process compared to CO 2 -ECBM, mainly because of the amount of gas (CO 2 /N 2 ) required to recover methane from the coal seam. For this reason, although N 2 injection has a higher processing cost, the N 2 -ECBM process is more profitable as it needs a much smaller amount of N 2 to produce gas from the seam. On the other hand, existing studies (Perera et al., 2011b) clearly show the higher produc- tion potential of N 2 compared to CO 2 (Figure 8), and there- fore the profit for N 2 -ECBM should be much higher than the values shown in the table, based on the assumption that both processes produce the same amount of CBM. However, as mentioned earlier, the CO 2 -ECBM process makes a considerable contribution to the mitigation of atmospheric CO 2 levels by CO 2 sequestration, and this needs to be considered from the environmental protection prospective. Flue gas (87% N 2 + 13% CO 2 ) injection offers a more commercially feasible CBM recovery method because of its availability compared to pure CO 2 or N 2 and its ability to create a higher degree of acceleration in the CBM recovery compared to CO 2 -ECBM process while sequestrating the same amount of CO 2 . Therefore, the use of flue gas appears to be an ideal means of harvesting commercially viable amounts of CBM in an environmentally friendly way. Although the injection of a CO 2 /N 2 mixture at a predetermined ratio may involve additional preparation cost, the production cost is expected to be much lower than for the injection of pure CO 2 as it greatly reduces the quantity of CO 2 required for the enhancement process

compared to the pure CO 2 -ECBM process. Furthermore, it would contribute more to the reduction of the atmospheric CO 2 levels than the N 2 -ECBM process.

  • 6 CO 2 +N 2 -ECBM TECHNIQUE

Currently mixed N 2 + CO 2 injection has become more popular as it is believed to create better production mech- anisms. According to Reeves and Schoeling (2000), the N 2 + CO 2 -ECBM process offers a higher production rate with earlier response compared to the CO 2 -ECBM process, and it has the ability to sequestrate almost similar amounts of CO 2 to the CO 2 -ECBM process while achieving a higher injection rate. This is because the addition of N 2 into the injecting CO 2 causes the gas injectivity to be greatly enhanced compared to CO 2 injection and much higher injection rates can be achieved. In addition, many current studies show the potential of N 2 to recover the CO 2 injection-induced swelled areas to some extent (Jasinge et al., 2012; Perera et al., 2011b, c; Vishal et al., 2013; Vishal, Ranjith, and Singh, 2013) and this may also influence the higher injection ability of N 2 /CO 2 mixture compared to pure CO 2 (Figure 11). This is important for the N 2 + CO 2 - ECBM process, as this phenomenon should cause additional CBM recovery enhancement with the reduced swelling effect caused by the CO 2 in the injecting gas. However, the swelling recovery rate may vary with various effective factors such as injection gas properties such as composition and pressure and seam properties such as depth, rank, and moisture content (Perera et al., 2011b). Parakh (2007) conducted an experimental study to examine the N 2 + CO 2 -ECBM technique using a 45% N 2 + 55% CO 2 gas mixture. According to his observations, the N 2 + CO 2 -ECBM process follows three major stages of

0.01 0.001 0.0001 Initial After swelling After nitrogen flooding 0.00001 12 14 16 18 20 Permeability
0.01
0.001
0.0001
Initial
After swelling
After nitrogen flooding
0.00001
12
14
16
18
20
Permeability (md)

Injection pressure (MPa)

Figure 11. Effect of N 2 flood on CO 2 permeability for 25 MPa confining pressure condition. Source: Created by the author using data from Perera et al., 2011a.

12

Efficiency Improvements and Waste Management

1 0.8 0.6 CH 4 0.4 CH 2 0.2 0 0 0.5 1 1.5 2 2.5
1
0.8
0.6
CH
4
0.4
CH 2
0.2
0
0
0.5
1
1.5
2
2.5
3
3.5
Production mole fraction
  • (a) Time (PVI)

1 0.8 CH 4 0.6 CH 2 N 2 0.4 0.2 0 0 0.5 1 1.5
1
0.8
CH
4
0.6
CH
2
N 2
0.4
0.2
0
0
0.5
1
1.5
2
2.5
3
3.5
(c)
Time (PVI)
Production mole fraction
1 0.8 0.6 CH 4 0.4 N 2 0.2 0 0 0.5 1 1.5 2 2.5
1
0.8
0.6
CH 4
0.4
N 2
0.2
0
0
0.5
1
1.5
2
2.5
3
3.5
(b)
Time (PVI)
1
0.8
0.6
0.4
N 2
0.2
N 2 + CO 2
CO 2
0
0
0.5
1
1.5
2
2.5
3
(d)
Time (PVI)
Methane fraction in
the producing gas
Production mole fraction

Figure 12. Breakthrough of gases under (a) pure CO 2 injection, (b) pure N 2 injection, (c) N 2 + CO 2 injection, and (d) methane production under the three ECBM techniques. Source: Created by the author using data from Parakh, 2007.

production. There is a high rate of production at the initial stage controlled by N 2 , then a slower rate of production controlled by CO 2 and finally the third stage production is purely due to convection, and the rate of production equals the injection rate. According to this study, increasing the CO 2 concentration in the injecting gas causes the production rate to decrease because of its more adsorptive nature. Figure 12 shows the better performance in methane recovery of gas mixture injection compared to pure CO 2 or N 2 injection. As the figure shows, the addition of CO 2 causes the quick N 2 breakthrough observed in the pure N 2 -ECBM process to be delayed from around 0.7 PVI (Figure 12b) to 1 PVI (Figure 12c), which is a favourable effect for the gas production process in terms of reduced purification cost. On the other hand, it clearly causes enhanced methane produc- tion compared to the pure CO 2 -ECBM process (Figure 12d). Therefore, this study confirms the unique advantages offered by the N 2 + CO 2 -ECBM technique compared to pure gas injection techniques. This better performance of the N 2 + CO 2 -ECBM tech- nique has been also experienced in CBM recovery fieldwork in the Fenn Big Valley basin in Alberta, Canada (Gunter, 2009; Wong et al., 2000). This project injected different proportions of N 2 /CO 2 (0% N 2 , 53% N 2 , 87% N 2 , and 100% N 2 ) into the 1–4 mD low permeable Mannville reser- voir using two injection wells and the corresponding CBM

production was recorded using a production well. Shut-in periods of 30–60 days were also imposed between the injec- tion and production to minimize the gas pressure devel- opment effect near the injection well and injectivity was maintained at an adequate rate (15 × 10 3 m 3 /day). First the CO 2 -ECBM technique (0% N 2 ) was used to enhance CBM production, and a reduction in productivity owing to coal matrix swelling was observed, mainly in shut-in operation periods. Therefore, a mixture of 87% N 2 and 13% CO 2 (a synthetic flue gas) was injected into the coal seam using the same well and a significant improvement in CBM produc- tion was observed. In the second pilot project, the N 2 -ECBM technique (100% N 2 ) was used and an early N 2 break- through was observed. Therefore, a mixture of 53% N 2 and 47% CO 2 (flue gas) was injected into the seam after 1 month using the same well and delay in breakthrough was observed. This project illustrates that the injection of a mixture of N 2 + CO 2 may help lessen the problems asso- ciated with CO 2 injection-induced coal swelling and early breakthrough with N 2 injection, and is therefore a better tech- nique to enhance CBM production. On the other hand, the injection of flue gas (the mixture of CO 2 and N 2 ) elimi- nates the high cost associated with the pure N 2 /CO 2 capture process, and therefore increases the profit of the project. However, there may be a better CO 2 /N 2 composition with optimum economic, productivity, and safety advantages.

Enhanced Coal Bed Methane Recovery: Using Injection of Nitrogen and Carbon Dioxide Mixture 13

This is currently the subject of worldwide research into ECBM recovery.

  • 7 THE OPTIMUM CO 2 TO N 2 RATIO FOR THE ECBM TECHNIQUE

Schepers, Oudinot, and Ripepi (2011) examined the perfor- mance of the N 2 + CO 2 -ECBM process for various injecting gas compositions (0–100% N 2 ) using a numerical modeling study, and the optimum N 2 /CO 2 mixture was examined considering both ECBM and CO 2 sequestration potential. According to this study, 20% N 2 + 80% CO 2 is the best gas mixture for low rank coal as it increases CBM recovery by around 69% compared to pure CO 2 injection with the loss of 27% of sequestration capacity compared with pure CO 2 injection (Figure 13). Moreover, this study found the critical influence of coal’s rank on the optimum gas mixture for CBM recovery, because coal mass flow properties such as absorption potential, permeability, and porosity vary greatly with its rank. For example, the best mixture observed was 30% N 2 : 70% CO 2 for medium rank coals as the injection of that mixture caused the ECBM to be increased by 95% (over 100% CO 2 injec- tion) with a minimum 20% sequestration capacity loss. The best mixture observed for high rank coal was 45% N 2 : 55% CO 2 as this caused the ECBM to be increased by 93% (over 100% CO 2 injection) with a minimum 20% loss of seques- tration capacity. This implies that the percentage of N 2 that needs to be added to the injecting gas mixture to recover the maximum amount of CBM while sequestrating the optimum amount of CO 2 increases with increasing rank. However, if

800 59 58 700 57 600 56 500 55 400 54 300 53 200 52 CO
800
59
58
700
57
600
56
500
55
400
54
300
53
200
52
CO 2 sequestration
100
51
ECBM increment
0
50
0
20
40
60
80
100
CO 2 sequestrated amount (MMCf)
Increment in ECBM recovery (MMCf)

CO 2 content in the injecting gas (%)

Figure 13. The best gas composition to recover an optimum amount of CBM with minimal reduction in carbon dioxide seques- tration. Source: Created by the author using data from Schepers et al., 2011.

the CO 2 sequestration effect is ignored, the best combina- tion of N 2 /CO 2 is around 50% : 50% for any coal rank as that combination harvests the maximum amount of CBM (Schepers, Oudinot, and Ripepi, 2011). This study confirms the suitability of medium rank coal for the ECBM process compared to high or low rank coals (Figure 14), and the injecting gas composition (N 2 /CO 2 ) is more sensitive to medium rank coal than other types of coals. However, it should be noted that the preparation of any of these gas mixtures involves an additional preparation step compared to flue gas or pure CO 2 or N 2 injection, and therefore may incur additional preparation cost. Therefore, in field conditions, flue gas is preferred for the N 2 + CO 2 - ECBM process (Gunter, 2009; Wong et al., 2000). However, according to Schepers, Oudinot, and Ripepi (2011), the injec- tion of flue gas (13% CO 2 + 87% N 2 ) is not a very good option to enhance CBM recovery as it is associated with minimum CBM production enhancement (Figure 13). CBM offers remarkable promise as a new, large-scale source of affordable and clean fossil fuel power. This is particularly so when one considers the potential for CO 2 sequestration with ECBM. However, despite recent growth in popularity in Australia, the United States, and Canada, the technology remains in its infancy because of various barriers in implementation of the process.

  • 8 BARRIERS IN IMPLEMENTING THE ECBM TECHNIQUE

There are three main barriers to the implementation of the ECBM technique: geological, economic, and policy. The main geological factors that need to be considered for an effective ECBM process are ninefolds: homogeneity, simple structure, sufficient permeability (>1 mD), effective depth

(300–1500 m), concentrated coal geometry and sufficient

production rates, project development timing, water disposal

facilities, and the amount of available gas. In general, an

ECBM project would not be economical if there is not a

commercially sufficient amount of gas in the coal seam

or the available gas is difficult to harvest because of the

geological condition of the reservoir. ECBM recovery is

location-specific and the preparation of a potential ECBM

site requires great effort (Brinckerhoff, 2011).

However, advanced new technologies have been inves-

tigated to overcome most of the geological barriers. For example, in low permeable reservoirs, an enhancement tech- nique such as hydrofracturing can be used to connect the production well to the coalbed fracture system (Jasinge et al., 2009, 2012). In this technique, a high pressure fluid containing propants is injected into the coalbed through a production well to keep the fracture open (Jasinge, Ranjith,

14

Efficiency Improvements and Waste Management

2500 Medium rank coal High rank coal Low rank coal CO 2 -ECBM 2000 N 2
2500
Medium rank coal
High rank coal
Low rank coal
CO 2 -ECBM
2000
N 2 -ECBM
1500
1000
N 2 -ECBM
CO 2 -ECBM
500
N 2 -ECBM CO 2 -ECBM
0
2000
4000
6000
8000
10,000
(a)
Time (days)
(b)
Cumulative CBM production (MMCf)
Incremental CBM recovery (MMCf)
5000 4500 4000 3500 3000 Low rank 2500 Medium rank 2000 High rank 1500 1000 500
5000
4500
4000
3500
3000
Low rank
2500
Medium rank
2000
High rank
1500
1000
500
0
0
20
40
60
80
100
120

N 2 Percentage in the injecting gas (%)

Figure 14. Variation of the ECBM potential with coal rank. Source: Created by the author using data from Schepers et al., 2011.

and Choi, 2011; Nasvi, Ranjith, and Sanjayan, 2013a). The creation of hydrofractures causes the coal bed’s permeability to be greatly increased, which accelerates the water pumping rate, the CO 2 and N 2 injection rates, and eventually the methane production rate. However, some geological barriers, such as the absence of sufficient amounts of gas and coal seams with highly heterogeneous structures, cannot be over- come by any simple means and therefore, such types of reser- voirs should not be considered for the ECBM process. In relation to economic barriers, ECBM recovery has many associated economic risks. Drilling exploration bore- holes to deep seams (i.e., in excess of 1000 m) is a very costly exercise, and production and field-scale testing are also quite expensive. Private companies and public insti- tutions are reluctant to invest in ventures in which there are significant risks of limited return on investment. Of the factors that influence a project’s cost, the expenses associated with injecting CO 2 and N 2, their availability, the processing and implementation costs, transportation expenses, and the value of methane are the most important. Generally, the ECBM process is considered to be economical if the value of the produced gas exceeds the cost of producing the gas, and the cost of transporting the gas, or the cost of taxes or CO 2 credits (Reeves, 2003). ECBM recovery projects use existing facilities to be more economical, by converting produc- tion wells for injection and using time-tested technological approaches such as the organization of injection wells and production wells in five-spot patterns. As mentioned earlier,

capture and transportation costs are the major costing factors in the ECBM process, and the transportation cost mainly depends on how many sources (power plants and industrial CO 2 sources) could share a pipeline over a given distance. If there are sufficient power plants or other sources available, it is more economical to use longer pipelines that offer more opportunities to share the pipelines among the sources, which reduces the maintenance and service costs associated with transportation. On the other hand, the ECBM process will not be economical if there are not enough sources nearby to share the transportation cost and long-range transporta- tion of gases appears an unlikely option given its high cost. The location of coal seams far away from the sources of the gases influences the cost of CO 2 and N 2 and their availability, and is therefore not favorable for the ECBM process. The limited understanding of fundamental issues related to the ECBM process has also critically influenced the economy of the ECBM process as it results in inadequate technolog- ical and scientific approaches to the process (Reeves, 2003). Therefore, it is necessary to conduct a broader range of scien- tific research studies to overcome this issue (Pini et al., 2006). The third kind of barrier associated with the implemen- tation of the ECBM process is related to government policy or legislation and is mainly twofold: tax or CO 2 credits, and mine safety. The current lack of penalties for CO 2 emissions has critically influenced the implementation of the ECBM process (Sarmah, 2011). For instance, increasing CO 2 credits would create more commercially viable ECBM

Enhanced Coal Bed Methane Recovery: Using Injection of Nitrogen and Carbon Dioxide Mixture 15

projects. Carbon credit can be defined as a certificate showing that a government or company has paid to remove a certain amount of carbon dioxide from the environment. This system has been introduced to assign a value to a reduction or offset of greenhouse gas emissions, where one credit is equivalent to 1 ton of CO 2 (Locatelli and Pedroni, 2004). Increasing carbon credit would encourage industrialists to turn to greener energy sources such as CBM, which would cause the ECBM process to develop. If the effect of mining safety regulations on the ECBM process is considered, according to Sarmah (2011), the CO 2 -ECBM process represents a safety hazard in coal mining as it may cause the mining environment to be polluted by the injecting CO 2 . Mines are generally required to have a limit of 3% CO 2 by volume in the mine air (Sarmah, 2011) and the injection of CO 2 into coal seams would cause those seams to be unsafe to mine in the future. Potential leakage from deep ECBM recovery may also affect surface mining. One potential method for reducing CO 2 levels in the mine air is to employ the N 2 + CO 2 -ECBM process. The ECBM technique is still in its infancy because of the lack of knowledge of the subject because of the complex hydrochemical–mechanical behavior of coal during the process (White et al., 2005). This is discussed in detail in the following section.

  • 9 COMPLEXITY OF THE PROCESS

Detailed knowledge of the type and quantity of the gas phases that move in and are adsorbed into the coal pores and cleat walls is important in the ECBM process as they affect the surface energy of the coal mass, which governs its physical behavior (Gilman and Beckie, 2000; Perera et al., 2011a, b, c; Perera and Ranjith, 2012; Viete and Ranjith, 2006, 2007). The greater potential of CO 2 to absorb into the coal mass

compared to other gases such as CH 4 and N 2 will trigger additional changes to the coal’s mechanical and flow proper- ties during the CO 2 -ECBM or N 2 + CO 2 -ECBM processes. Perera et al. (2013a) used COMSOL Multiphysics numerical modeling codes to simulate CO 2 injection into coal seam and checked the CO 2 pressure distribution and the corresponding deformation along the coal seam during injection (6 months) and after injection (6 months to 10 years). As illustrated in Figure 15, CO 2 injection pressurizes the coal seam and the coal seam deforms. However, even after the injection, there is a significant amount of deformation in the coal seam, which is mainly because of the coal matrix swelling; this has a significant influence on coal seam strength. This was found by Perera, Ranjith, and Peter (2011d) by listening to the acoustic emission (AE) waves released during the load application on CO 2 and non-CO 2 saturated coal samples. According to the Acoustic Emission (AE) counts, CO 2 saturation causes early crack initiation compared to non-CO 2 saturated samples because of the CO 2 adsorption-induced swelled layer and early crack damaging and failure points because of lower surface energy and strength. This strength reduction is not a favorable effect for the long-term safety of the ECBM process, as injected CO 2 or CBM may freely back-migrate into the atmosphere sometime after injection because of reservoir failure. Therefore, the possible strength reduction needs to be accurately quantified before initiating any fieldwork to check the suitability and safety of seams for the ECBM process. However, the CO 2 adsorption-induced strength reduction process in coal is quite complicated, because although it is significantly influenced by CO 2 pressure and phase, it does not exhibit a direct relationship with either of these or even with their combined effect. This can be clearly identified by examining Figure 16, which shows the failure pattern of black coal at different CO 2 pressures and phase conditions. The addition of N 2 into the injecting CO 2 causes this complexity to be further increased, and

16 01 month 02 months 15 03 months 04 months 05 months 06 months 14 01
16
01
month
02
months
15
03
months
04 months
05
months
06 months
14
01
year
02
years
13
03
years
04 years
12
05
years
10 years
11
10
0
50
100
150
200
(a)
Horizontal distance along the boundary (m)
(b)
Pressure (MPa)
Vertical deformation of the
cap rock boundary (mm)

5

4

3

2

1

0

01 month 02 months 03 months 04 months 05 months 06 months 01 year 02 years
01
month
02
months
03
months
04 months
05
months
06 months
01
year
02
years
03
years
04 years
05
years
10 years
0
50
100
150
200

Horizontal distance along the boundary (m)

Figure 15. (a) Pressure and (b) deformation along the coal seam throughout the 10 years. Source: Created by the author using data from Perera et al., 2013a.

16

Efficiency Improvements and Waste Management

(a) (b) (c) (d) (e)
(a)
(b)
(c)
(d)
(e)

Figure 16. Appearance of the (a) natural coal sample, and (b) failure pattern of the natural coal sample (shear failure), (c) coal sample saturated with subcritical CO 2 at 6 MPa (failed along the major cleats), (d) coal sample saturated with supercritical CO 2 at 8 MPa (failed along the minor and major cleats), and (e) coal sample saturated with supercritical CO 2 at 16 MPa (failed along the major cleats). Source:

Created by the author using data from Perera et al., 2013b.

the effect of N 2 and CO 2 partial pressures needs to be considered. Adsorption of CO 2 causes the coal matrix to swell; in contrast, the coal structure shrinks when the adsorbed gases are desorbed from the matrix, which happens in CBM production (Harpalani and Chen, 1995). Therefore, the strength reduction caused by CO 2 adsorption should be proportionally recovered during the CH 4 desorption process. However, the proportion is still undiscovered because of the complex heterogeneous nature of coal, which creates different seam properties from location to location (Perera and Ranjith, 2012), and therefore increases the complexity of the ECBM process. According to Jasinge et al. (2009), two coal specimens taken from the same sample block may have greatly varying intrinsic properties because of the heterogeneous nature of the coal, which includes its heterogeneous fracture network and the presence of foreign objects such as wood in the coal matrix. Therefore, it is clear that the complex and heterogeneous behavior of coal is the main challenge in understanding the ECBM process, and therefore is a source of delays in the implementation of the process.

  • 10 CONCLUSIONS

Every coal seam contains different amounts of naturally formed gases formed during the coalification process, 90% of which is CBM, which is trapped inside the coal mass by the application of continuously increasing pressure in the coalification process and the pressure applied by the surrounding saturated rock layers (hydrostatic pressure).

Reduction of the pore pressure causes this CBM to be released, which can be used for energy production because of its purity, and medium rank coal seams lying between 250 and 1000 m underground are the most preferable seams for CBM production.

CBM is conventionally produced by pumping out the naturally existing pore fluid (water), which takes exten- sive time, cannot produce commercially viable amounts of CBM, and is associated with many environmental hazards. The release of thousands of gallons of salty water from coal seams causes the water table to be depleted, the groundwater in the area to be polluted, and stream channels to be scoured. It is essential to find advanced novel technologies to recover CSG in safer and more economical ways. Such advanced technologies are currently developing in the Deep Earth Energy Lab of the Monash University. The process of injecting a gas or a mixture of gases into a coal seam with the purpose of enhancing the methane recovery rate from it is called ECBM recovery; CO 2 - ECBM and N 2 -ECBM are the main ECBM techniques. The CO 2 -ECBM process desorbs methane form the seam by injecting more reactive CO 2 into the coal seam; CO 2 is preferred over CH 4 in coal on the basis that approximately 2–3 mol of CO 2 are adsorbed per mole of CH 4 produced, and the ratio will be much higher for supercritical CO 2 deep underground. The CO 2 -ECBM process will also result in long-term sequestration of CO 2 . CO 2 adsorption causes the coal matrix to swell, which reduces the flowability through the coal seam and even- tually causes a significant decline in the methane produc- tion rate sometime after the CO 2 injection (see the Allison unit in the San Juan Basin and the RECOPOL project). The N 2 -ECBM process first replaces all the gaseous state CH 4 from the coal mass and creates disequilibrium in the system, which desorbs adsorbed phase CH 4 . The large gas treatment costs associated with quick N 2 breakthroughs is a common problem in the process (cf. theTiffany unit in the San Juan Basin).

Enhanced Coal Bed Methane Recovery: Using Injection of Nitrogen and Carbon Dioxide Mixture 17

The merits and demerits of the two processes need to be compared for their productivity, risks, environmental impact, and economical aspects to find the optimum technique for the ECBM process. Although the N 2 -ECBM process creates quicker and greater enhancement of CBM recovery, it causes much quicker breakthroughs than the CO 2 -ECBM process. There are obviously larger local and global risks associated with the CO 2 -ECBM process, which are minimal with the N 2 -ECBM process because of the inert nature of N 2 . However, the CO 2 -ECBM process also assists in protecting the environment through CO 2 sequestration, which does not happen in the N 2 -ECBM process. Although the N 2 -ECBM process requires higher processing costs, it appears more economically viable because of the quantity required for the process, which is around 0.5 ft 3 of N 2 to displace each cubic feet of methane from the coal seam compared to the 2–3 ft 3 of CO 2 required in the CO 2 -ECBM process. Injection of a mixture of CO 2 and N 2 is believed to create a collaborative production mechanism, which offers a higher production rate with early response compared to the CO 2 -ECBM process. It also has the ability to sequestrate similar amounts of CO 2 to the CO 2 -ECBM process while achieving a higher injection rate (cf. the Fenn Big Valley basin in Alberta, Canada). It is necessary to find the optimum N 2 + CO 2 gas mixture to recover the maximum amount of methane from the coal seam while sequestrating the optimum amount of CO 2 , which depends on coal rank. Such kind of work is currently performing at the Deep Earth Energy Lab of the Monash University. Geological, economic, and policy barriers currently prevent implementation of ECBM recovery. No ECBM project will be economically justified if there is not a commercially sufficient amount of gas in the coal seam or the available gas is difficult to harvest because of the geological condition of the reservoir. The former issue can be largely overcome using advanced recovery techniques. Generally, the ECBM process is considered to be economically justified if the value of the gas produced exceeds the cost of production, and the cost of transporting the gas, or the cost of taxes or CO 2 credits. The large costs associated with drilling boreholes and production and field-scale testing, and the risk of limited returns has caused less investment. The current lack of penalties for CO 2 emissions and the strict rules governing coal mining affect the imple- mentation of the ECBM process. However, the complex hydrochemical–mechanical behavior of coal during the process is currently the main drawback.

RELATED ARTICLES

Properties of CO 2 Mixtures and Impacts on Carbon Capture and Storage CO 2 Storage Capacity CO 2 Geological Storage The Potential for Carbon Dioxide Sequestration in Subsur- face Geological Formations Physical Modeling and Numerical Simulation of CO 2 Storage Security NO x Emission and Mitigation Technologies

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