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COAL PROCESSING TECHNOLOGY

NEW PROMISE FOR UNDERGROUND COAL


GASIFICATION

D. D. Fischer and L. A. Schrider


Energy Research and Development Administration
Laramie, Wyoming

VOLUME 2 1975 PAGES 98-101


New Promise for Underground Coal Gasification
Encouraging results in experiment on Wyoming sub-bituminous seam
indicate possibility process could supplement output of useful energy
from surface gasification systems.

D. D. Fischer and L.A. Schrider


Energy Research and Development Administration
Laramie, Wyoming

An experimental program on underground gasification of a (3) have been performed in many countries over the past
western U.S. sub-bituminous coal has demonstrated that in 100 years without economic success, the U.S. Bureau of
situ gasification can satisfactorily supplement an above- Mines authorized a field test of underground coal gasifica-
ground gasification system. tion to determine if current technology and economics
Underground coal gasification's potential for generating could result in a viable process.
plentiful supplies of fuel gas without the environmental dis- The various aspects to be studied were the following:
turbance of surface mining and without exposing workers 1. Use of natural coal permeability to enhance process
to the hazards of underground coal mining is especially control and to optimize gas production, gas collection, and
promising. It may also allow utilization of low grade coals coal utilization.
or thin coal seams not economic to recover using present 2. Use of air, oxygen-enriched air, or pure oxygen as the
technology. While not expected to replace coal mining, it gasification agent to determine feasibility of upgrading
offers an alternative method of bringing the energy value of the produce gas to pipeline qUality.
the coal to the surface. 3. The extent of environmental impacts due to under-
With the large U.S. reserves, coal has become the subject ground coal gasification.
of many studies to increase its utilization in the total ener- 4. Feasibility of downhole monitoring for pr<?cess con-
gy mix. Because of the impending severe shortage of natural trol.
gas due to large increases in demand for this valuable, clean 5. Techniques by which gas production rate and prod-
energy form, coal gasification has gained a great deal of uct gas heating value can be stabilized.
interest in recent years. (1) However, almost all conversion 6. Isolation of parameters to which economic evaluation
research is being focused on mined coal, processed above- of in situ coal gasification is most senSitive.
ground using various methods. These techniques convert 7. Overall evaluation of in situ coal gasification as a
the coal to a gas which, through methanation, can be used viable energy recovery technique.
as a substitute for natural gas. Substitution of low-Btu gas After evaluation of these parameters, it should be pos-
for natural gas-particularly by the industrial sector-offers sible to determine whether underground coal gasification is
further augmentation of the natural gas supply. This low- suited for production oflow-Btu gas for electric power gen-
heating-value gas can. be produced from coal either above eration or for in-plant process requirements or for produc-
ground or in place. The latter method would, of course, tion of an intermediate-Btu gas which could be upgraded to
eliminate the need to mine the coal prior to conversion. pipeline quality.
Low-Btu gas from coal offers a promising method of
using coal as a utility fuel for either power generation or for Underground coal gasification work is world-wide
in-plant processes. with the planned development of more Underground coal gasification technology is based on
efficient power generation systems such as combined gas- world activity-particularly in Great Britain, the Soviet
steam turbine cyc:les,! the potential for use of low-Btu gas Union, and the United States-although other countries,
will increase. AlthojJgI1 the heating value of low-Btu gas e.g., Poland, Italy, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, and Morocco,
may 'be o~ly 1/1Ot011/3 that of natural gas, using low-Btu have been involved with this process. Currently, little activ-
gas ~ouldl req~ire; Oldy nominal derating of existing facili- ity other than the present U.S. Government sponsored
ties desigiJed for natural gas. (2) Therefore, low-Btu gas work is being reported. Since 1965, when the Soviets re-
offer;;,~h ~dditional sjJpply of fuel gas to relieve pressure on stricted further information on their program, no appre-
the natural gas supply. ciable breakthroughs have been reported. The Russian work
Although experiments in underground coal gasification has been of the longest duration, beginning in the early 30's

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and exUnding until today. This work has reached the com- any economic and environmental advantages of one process
mercial stage, with the produced gas being used for power over another and the feasibility of underground gasification
generation. compared with present coal energy recovery techniques.
, Between 1946 and 1958, the Bureau of Mines conducted
extensive field studies of underground coal gasification at Work on Wyoming site began November, 1972
Gorgas, Ala. This program was terminated when the data The Bureau of Mines' underground coal gasification ex-
obtained showed the process to be uneconomic. Tech· periment has been in progress since November 1972. The
nology associated with underground coal gasification has test site is located near Hanna, Wyo., in the Hanna Basin,
measurably improved since the first Bureau experiments. Figures 1 and 2. Land for the experiment was made avail-
The major improvements are better understanding of able by the Rocky Mountain Energy Co., a subsidiary of I
flow properties in in situ systems, of explosive fracturing the Union Pacific Railroad Co. The seam being utilized is
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t~chniques, and of directional drilling techniques. (4, 5, 6, the Hanna No, 1 seam, a 30-ft. thick sub-bituminous coal
Z) Therefore, the Bureau has resumed laboratory and field
~tudies of the technique at both the Laramie and Morgan-
seam lying at a depth of approximately 400 ft. This seam is
the major, near-surface aquifer. Compressed air has been the I
tpwn Energy Research Centers. The U.S. Atomic Energy only gasification agent used to date. r
Commission has also initiated a program for in situ coal In the recently completed initial phase, hydraulic frac-
gasification at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. (8, 9) turing was used to increase permeability to fluid flow.be- j.
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The programs at both the Mines Bureau and the Atomic tween wells. In addition, oriented cores were analyzed at
Energy Commission are now part of the energy research the Morgantown Energy Research Center to determine
conducted by the Energy Research and Development Ad- directions of natural permeability as an aid in well place-
ministration (ERDA). ment to optimize gas flow and gas collection. Ignition using
Should the current and proposed programs be successful, a downhole propane burner took place on March 29,1973.
~.
large coal reserves presently considered unminable could Air injection continued until March 22, 1974.
become available. Although the economics are not yet
!
During the 5l6-month period from mid-September 1973 i!

clear, underground coal gasification would eliminate mining through February 1974, relatively stable gas production r
"
and processing costs. Direct use of low-Btu gas for power rates and produced gas heating values were attained. Table
generation or for in-plant requirements would also elimi- I shows representative data for two 2-week periods plus
nate the methanation step necessary for upgrading 10w·Btu average values for the whole 5l6-month period. A typical
gas to synthetic natural gas. It may be desirable, and is dry produced gas composition is given in Table 2.
proposed (7, 8), to evaluate the process using steam and/or Both forward and reverse combustion techniques were
oxygen injection because shifting the reaction equilibria attempted. Forward combustion is defined as combustion
could yield an intermediate-Btu gas for upgrading to pipe- front and injected air movement in the same direction
line quality. In addition, the use of oxygen would remove whereas reverse combustion is defined as combustion front
diluent nitrogen from the product gas simplifying further movement countercurrent to injected air movement. In
processing. Figure 3, forward combustion would involve ignition of the
Therefore, the possibility of making a pipeline quality coal at the bottom of Well I and air injection into Well 1 in
gas from in situ product gas should not be discounted. Re- an attempt to "push" the combustion front toward Well 2
sults of planned field experiments will be used to determine where produced gases are removed. Reverse combustion
would involve ignition in Well I and air injection in Well 2
BLACI( •
HILLS

.
~

COAL
AEGION

D
Figure 1. Location map of U.S. Bureau of Mines under·
ground coal gasification experiment site, Hanna, Wyoming. Figure 2. View of a portion of the well pattern at Hanna.

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Table 1. Representative operating data from the underground coal gasification experiment,
Hanna, Wyoming

Average injection rate Average production rate Average heating value Mole % water vapor in
Period 1,000 cu.ft./day 1,000 cU.ft./day dry gas Btu./std.cu.ft. wet 'product gas

Oct16-0ct31,1973 ....... 1,055 ................. 1,639 ............... 141 ............... 26.9


Feb 16 - Feb 28, 1974 ...... 1,394 ................. 2,224 ............... 157 ............... 24.7
Average Value ............. 1,076 ................. 1,602 ............... 126 ............... 22.9

in an attempt to "draw" the combustion front from Weill


to Well 2. In this case produced gases would be collected at Table 2. Typical produced dry gas composition
Well 1. During the Hanna experiment, reverse combustion underground coal gasification experiment,
has been more successful than forward combustion. Hanna, Wyoming
The experiment was shut down because the proposed
Constituent Mole-percent
objectives of the first phase had been met and to allow data
interpretation prior to initiation of the next experimental H2 .................................. 15.96
phase. Further details of the experiment are available in Argon ................................. 0.76
previous publications (7, 10, 11, 12). N2 .................................. 53.18
Two models were used to evaluate the data from the CH 4 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 3.91
Hanna test. (11) The gasification model assumed total gas- CO .................................. 6.33
ification of all coal affected, Le., utilization of all carbon in C2HS ................................ 0.39
the coal. The devolatilization model assumed only carboni- C02' ................................ 19.22
zation of the coal affected at 900°C, Le., only carbon con- C3HS ................................ 0.13
tained in the de volatilization products appears in the prod- C3HS ................................ 0.04
uct gas with a substantial percentage of the total carbon i-C4HlO .............................. 0.01
remaining in unaffected char. Balances were calculated for H2S ................................. 0.07
carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, and oxygen. Heating value, 124 Btu./std.cu.ft.
The basic equations used were the following:
Pounds carbon in product gas = pounds carbon from coal affected (1)
Pounds nitrogen in injected air = pounds nitrogen in product gas (2)
lb. H2 from coal affected + lb. H2 from formation H20 consumed
day day
(3)
lb. H2 in H20 vapor in product gas + lb. H2 in product gas combustibles + lb. H2 in H20 condensed from product gas
day day day
lb. 02 from coal affected + lb. 02 from formation H20 consumed + lb. 02 from air injected =
day day day
(4)
lb. 02 in H20 vapor in product gas + lb. 02 in CO and C02 in product gas + lb. 02 in H20 condensed from product gas
day day day

Knowing total amounts of air injected and gas produced, gasification model indicates more oxygen available to the
product gas composition, ultimate and proximate analyses system than was produced from the system. Conversely, the
of coal from the Hanna No. I seam, and the results of de volatilization model shows more oxygen produced from
laboratory precision carbonization assays of Hanna No. I the system than is available to the system. Balancing aver-
coal at 900°C, each component inthe above equations can age values of oxygen unaccounted for shown in Table 3
be calculated. gives an estimation of the contribution of each model and
Calculations for the gasification model depend upon the an estimation of overall percentage energy recovery can
ultimate coal analyses, whereas the devolatilization model then be obtained. If this is done, estimates of 80% gasifi-
uses the results of the laboratory precision carbonization cation, 20% carbonization, and 65% overall energy recovery
assays. The necessary coal analyses and a complete step by are obtained.
step calculation for one 2-week period have been previously
published. (11) Results of material balance calculations
Representative data obtained from each of the models These material balance calculations indicate a significant
'for two 2-week periods, plus average values for the whole influx of groundwater into the reaction zone. Influx of this
516-month period ,considered, are shown in Table 3. The water is the major reason for the high measured values of

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Table 3. Representative results of models applied Weill Well 2
to Hanna underground coal gasification experiment
Oct. 16·31 Feb. 16·28 Average
1973 1974 value

Coal gasification model:


Percent latent coal
energy recovered in
dry product gas ..... 83.6 ..... 85.6 ..... 75.4
Btu. recovered per lb.
dry coal affected .... 8,593 .... 8,796 .... 7,757
Oxygen unaccounted
for, Ib.!day·. . . . . . . .. 3,464 .... 3,807 .... 2,338
Coal devolatilization Model:
Percent latent coal
energy recovered in
dry product gas ..... 23.9 ..... 24.5 ..... 21.7
Cross-sect ion through borehole s /.
Btu. recovered per lb.
dry coal affected .... 2,453 .... 2,? 16 .... 2,228 Figure 3. Cross section of two wells into coal seam at
Oxygen unaccounted Hanna.
for, Ib.!day·......... -8,533 ... -13,878 .. -9,401
~ sao. ,--,---,---nr----,--,----,---,--,
'Positive values indicate more oxygen available in the reo "-
u
w
action zone than can be accounted for in the gasification ;i 400.
products. Negative values indicate more oxygen produced
in the devolatilization products than is available to the cr:: 300.
reaction zone.
::i 200.
u
hydrogen and carbon dioxide found in our product gas in
conjunction with low carbon monoxide levels, as seen in '"
W
0... 100.
Table 2. The water gas shift reaction must be occurring '"
:::J
prior to the product gas exiting the reaction zone. "-
co
APR 1
This influx of water is also important because a plot of
nitrogen into the system vs. nitrogen produced from the Figure 4. Heat value recovered in composite dry gas per
system (11) shows no leakage as long as air injection pres· std.cu.ft. of air injected, underground coal gasification ex-
sure is main tained at a level less than the hydrostatic pres· periment, Hanna, Wyoming.
sure in the seam. Thus, the ground water acts as a gas seal.
The values of oxygen unaccounted for in Table 3 show· o
W
ing opposite signs would indicate that a more accurate f- HV=-.0861~IR+303.8
U
model exists somewhere between gasification and devolatili· W
-, 400.
SLOPE=-S.O DEG.
zation, as would be expected. The assumptions used in this Z
material balance also limit its application, because certainly
fr:
some injected oxygen was consumed in formation of coal
tars (which were discounted as negligible), in reaction with a:: 300.

minerals contained in the coal, and in low temperature oxi· f-


LL
dation of coal yielding no gaseous products.
=> 200.
These models must be applied as first approximations. u
Combina tion of the two models to balance oxygen un· fr:
w
accounted for yields an 80%-20% contribution of the gasifi- a..
100.
cation and devolatilization models, respectively, and 65% en
recovery of the latent energy of the coal affected. =>
f-
Figure 4 is a plot of measured energy recovered in the IT)

dry product gas p'er cubic foot of air injected during the
Hanna project. This plot is based on actual measured data
and is not derived from the assumed models. As can be Figure 5. Energy recovery as a function of the air injection
seen, during the 5l?-month period considered, this value rate at Hanna.

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Table 4. Comparison of data and results from Stirred·Bed Producer Experiments
and underground coal gasification, Hanna, Wyoming

% latent coal Btu. recovered


Moisture·free Feed rates (lb./hr.) Dry gas energy recov· in dry product
coal heating Moisture·free Gas produced heating value ered in dry gas per std.cu.ft.
Coal type value (Btu.!lb.) coal air steam std.cu.ft.!hr. Btu./std.cu.ft. product gas air injected

Stirred·bed producer system:


Western Ky. #9 seam (hvbb) ... 12,650 ..... 1,400 .. 4,600 .. 680 ... 87,000 ...... 145 ...... 71.2 ......... 205
1,210 .. 3,230 .. 440 ... 62,000 ...... 146 ...... 59.1 ......... 210
1,275 .. 4,700 .. 420 ... 88,000 ...... 151 " .... 82.4 ......... 212
Upper Freeport seam, ........ 11,700 ..... 1,005 .. 3,315 .. 440 ... 62,000 ...... 144: ..... 75.9 ......... 202
northern W.Va. (hvab) 920 .. 3,190 .. 310 ... 60,000 ...... 153 ...... 85.3 ......... 216
Sub·bituminous A, Navajo .... 9,760 ..... 1,360 .. 3,450.1,010 ... 69,800 ...... 150 ...... 78.9 ......... 227
field, San Juan Basin, N.M.
Pittsburgh bed coal, Monongalia 14,030 ..... 1,135 .. 3,830 .. 560 ... 73,000 ...... 142 ...... 65.1 ......... 203
Cty, W.Va. (hvab) 14,030 ..... 1,370 .. 4,600 .. 720 ... 90,000 ...... 145 ...... 67.8 ......... 213
Illinois #6 seam, Jefferson .... 12,940 ..... 1,520 .. 4,600 .. 630 ... 90,000 ...... 164 ...... 75.0 ......... 240
Cty, III. (hvbb)
In·situ gasification system:
Sub·bituminous A, Hanna
Basin, Hanna, Wyo ......... 10,280 ..... 1,630 .. 3,360.1,170 ... 66,700 ...... 126 ...... 65.0 ........ 210·250

was approximately 200·250 Btu/cu.ft. of air injected. gas and Btu recovered per std.cu.ft. of air injected are seen
Figure 5 shows production of Btu/cu.ft. of air injected to be similar for both systems. The data plotted in Figure 4
as a function of air injection rate. This graph was the result are not the result of a model but are observed recovered
of a least squares application and shows a decline in energy values of Btu./std.cu.ft. air injected. Those values appearing
recovery as air injection rate was increased. What is not in Table 4 for the stirred·bed producer were calculated
included is energy recovery as a function of time. But, from eXperimental data. The Similarity of the values is con·
other data indicate a gradual decay in product gas quality sidered most significant as substantiation that similar mech·
with time for a fixed in situ system. This has plagued most anisms are occurring in each system.
previous in situ coal gasification experiments. (3) Improved Comparison of the material balance calculations for
process control should allow correction of this problem, underground coal gasification and the calculated values of
because new production wells could be brought on stream latent energy recovered in dry product gas for the stirred·
or old production wells could be shut iri to stabilize prod· bed producer show the gaSification model results to be sim·
uct gas heating value. ilar. But, as should be expected, both gasification and de·
A stirred·bed producer has been designed and operated volatilization contribute to the overall reaction mechanism
at the Morgantown Energy Research Center for several in both systems. Comparing the results of the 80·20 com·
years. Various coals with both caking and non·caking prop· bination of the two models with the calculated values from
erties have been gasified. (J 3, 14, 15) These tests were run the stirred·bed producer show somewhat lower energy reo
using air and steam additions and should be comparable to covery for in situ coal gasification but not of any great
in situ coal gasification results at Hanna. amount.
Data compared consist of percent latent coal energy reo The two models chosen for underground coal gasifica·
covered in the product gas and recovery of Btu./std.cu.ft. tion contain several ideal assumptions because sufficient
of air injected. Data for the stirred·bed producer and the data were not available. Thus the results of using these two
Hanna in situ experiments are shown in Table 4. The values models must be considered a first approximation. The two
shown for the in situ system were obtained by using a models also do not give values of a real sweep efficiency or
combined model consisting of 80% gaSification and 20% coal utilization efficiency.
devolatilization. Planned geophysical assessment of the past test should
Values for percent latent coal energy recovered in dry indicate the contributions of gasification and devolatiliza·
product gas and Btu. recovered in dry product gas per tion to the in situ process as well as coal recovery. In addi·
std.cu.ft. of air injected were calculated using the following tion, improved monitoring and data collection will be incor·
equations, respectively: porated in future work to allow better material balance
calculations. With improved downhole monitoring, the
Comparison of results models can be adjusted to more accurately reflect reaction
The values of latent energy recovery in the dry product conditions.

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Heating value of dry product gas Gas production rate
(100) (Btu./std.cu.ft.) (std.cu.ft./hr.)
% latent coa I energy r~covere d in dry pro d uct gas = .c.....--''----,-~--'-~--"-,.----~-___c~.:..,.-'-- (5)
Moisture·free coal Dry coal feed rate
heating value (Btu./lb.) (Ib./hr.)
Btu recovered in dry product gas Heating value of dry product gas Gas production rate
std.cu.ft. air injected (Btu./std.cu.ft.) (std.cu.ft./hr.) (6)
Air feed rate
(Ib./hr.) density of air at 1 atm
and 60°F (Ib./std.cu.ft.)

The amounts of coal, air, and steam added shown in Society of Petroleum Engineers of the AIME, Nov. 7-9,
Table 4 were determined for optimum coal gasification in 1973, Pittsburgh, Penna.
the stirred·bed producer. The ratios of coal to air to steam 7. Schrider, Leo A., and Pasini III, J., "Underground Gas-
show ranges of I to 2.5·3.5 to 0.3·0.75. For the sub· ification of Coal-Pilot Test, Hanna, Wyo.," presented
bituminous A coal, the ratio is 1 to 2.5 to 0.75. Using at American Gas Association Fifth Synthetic Pipeline
average air injected per day and the 80·20 combination Gas Symposium, Oct. 29-31, 1973, Chicago, Ill.
model, the ratio for the Hanna experiment was 1 to 2.1 to 8. Higgins, G.H., "A New Concept for in situ Coal Gasifi-
0.7. This would indicate that compressor capacity has been cation," UC RL-5 I 21 7. Lawrence Livermore Labora·
too low, limiting the amount of air that could be injected tory, April 17, 1972.
into the coal seam. 9. Stephens, D.R., ''In situ Coal Gasification," UCRL-
The major implication of this comparison is to temper 75494, Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, Jan. 31,1974.
past results of some underground coal gasification experi· 10. Schrider, Leo A., and Pasini III, J., Coal Age, pp. 58-61,
ments which indicated low energy recovery potential. Dec., 1973.
Although the results of our experiment are encouraging, I l. Schrider, Leo A., Jennings, J.W., Brandenburg, C.F.,
many questions remain to be answered. Future work will be and Fischer, D.D., "An Underground Coal Gasification
aimed toward improved understanding of the process and Experiment, Hanna, Wyo.," SPE 4993, presented at the
more responsive data acquisition systems in order to deter- fall meeting of SPE of AIME, Oct. 6-9, 1974, Houston,
mine if in situ coal gasification offers a viable means of Texas.
recovering energy from presently unminable seams. # 12. Campbell, G.G., Brandenburg, CF., and Boyd, R.M.,
"Preliminary Evaluation of Underground Coal Gasifica-
tion at Hanna, Wyo.," BuMines TPR 82, Oct., 1974.
Literature cited 13. Lewis, P.S., Liberatore, AJ., and McGee, J.P., "Strong-
l. Osborn, E.F., "Clean Synthetic Fluid Fuels from Coal: ly Caking Coal Gasified in a Stirred-Bed Producer,"
Some Prospects and Projections," presented at annual BuMines RI 7644 (1972).
meeting, American Petroleum Institute Division of Pro· 14. Rahfuse, R.V., Goff, G.B., and Liberatore, A.J., "Non-
duction, April 9-11, 1973, Denver, Col. caking Coal Gasified in a Stirred-Bed Producer," Bu-
2. Anon., Oil and Gas J., 72, No. 36, 86-88 (1974). Mines TPR 77 (March 1974).
3. Arthur D. Little, Inc., "A Current Appraisal of Under- 15. Lewis, P.S., Belt, R.J., and Liberatore, A.J., "Low-Btu
ground Coal Gasification," Report No. C-73671, De- Fuel Gas for Power Generation," presented at 1973
cember,197l. Lignite Symposium, University of North Dakota, Grand
4. Overbey, WK., Jr., Komar, C.A., and Pasini III, J., "Un- Forks, N.D., May 9-10, 1973.
derground Gasification of Coal: Proposed Concept for
Directional Control of the Combustion Zone," present-
ed at 1973 annual meeting, Geological Society of
to
America, Nov. 11-14, 1973, Dallas, Texas.
5. Komar, C.A., Overbey, Jr., WK., and Pasini III, J.,
"Directional Properties of Coal and Their Utilization in
Underground Gasification Experiments," BuMines TPR
73 (November 1973).
6. Raimondi, P., Terwilliger, P.L., and Wilson, Jr., L.A.,
"A Field Test of Underground Combustion of Coal,"
SPE 4713, presented at Eastern Regional Meeting of the
FISCHER, D.

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