Last month British prime minister David Cameron and Chinese premier Wen Jiabao signed a $1.5-billion commercial partnership was launched to gasify six million tons of buried coal per year and generate 1,000 megawatts of power.
* Inner Mongolia has an estimated 280 billion tons of coal
* Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) can generate electricity from coal with less air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and water consumption than existing coal-fired power plants.
* The project will determine if UCG can operate at large scale without contaminating groundwater.
China’s largest pilot project suggests that UCG will be economically competitive, according to data presented this spring by Beijing-based energy giant ENN. Feng Chen, ENN’s chief engineer for UCG, reported on 26 months of gasification at a CAN$1 billion ($155 million) UCG operation at Ulanchap, Inner Mongolia, which generates five megawatts of power. He projected that UCG can supply power 27 percent cheaper than plants such as GreenGen that gasify coal above-ground.
The carbon footprint of UCG-based power generation should be 20 percent lower than power generation via the pulverized coal-fired power plants that predominate in China, thanks largely to the avoidance of methane emissions from coal mining. It could cut carbon emissions in half if equipment to capture and store the plant’s carbon dioxide exhaust is added—an option that Durucan says is under consideration for the U.K.-Chinese project.