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Solid Energy plans underground coal gasification pilot plant in Waikato, New Zealand

Oilfield Technology,

Solid Energy plans to build and commission, by the beginning of 2011, a NZ$ 22 million underground coal gasification (UCG) pilot plant in the Waikato.

The successful application of the UCG process will open up access to coal seams which would otherwise be nearly impossible to mine using conventional mining technology. UCG complements traditional mining because it works best where conventional mining does not – in deep, difficult-to-reach coal seams.

Solid Energy will shortly lodge the necessary consent applications to build and operate the UCG plant, which will convert up to 30,000 t of coal into syngas. The pilot will operate for up to two years on private property within the company’s existing Huntly West Coal Mining Licence area. Work will begin on the proposed plant once consents are granted.

The launch of the pilot plant, which will employ up to 10 people, is the culmination of five years’ investigation by Solid Energy into UCG’s suitability for New Zealand conditions. The mining company is working with Ergo Exergy, a proven technology supplier that has successfully developed UCG projects in several countries around the world, meeting stringent safety and environmental standards.

For the pilot plant, Solid Energy plans to drill up to seven wells about 25 to 50 m apart into an underground coal seam 400 m below the surface. The company is also installing a number of other wells onsite to gather process and environmental data. The surface plant, including wells, is expected to be contained within an area measuring 300 m long and 150 m wide.

The pilot plant will yield process, technical and geological information, and verify modelled environmental effects. Once the required information has been gathered, Solid Energy will shut down the pilot plant. Results from the pilot will determine whether Solid Energy takes the project further to a commercial operation.

The project builds on an earlier UCG trial undertaken in 1994 by the then Electricity Corp. of New Zealand (ECNZ) in partnership with Glencoal Energy and Energy International. The ECNZ trials were abandoned because UCG did not prove cost-effective at that time. Increasing energy prices and further advances in UCG technology, however, make UCG a viable energy option again.

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