Learning to control fire changed the life of man considerably. Learning to convert the energy derived from combustion of coal or hydrocarbons into another type of energy, such as steam pressure or electricity, has put him on the path of scientific and technological revolution, stimulating dynamic development.
Since the dawn of time, fossil fuels have been serving as the mankind’s natural reservoir of energy in an increasingly great capacity. A completely incomprehensible refusal to use fossil fuels causes some local populations, who do not possess a comprehensive knowledge of the subject, to protest and even generate social conflicts as an expression of their dislike for the extraction of minerals. Our times are marked by the search for more efficient ways of utilizing fossil fuels by introducing non-conventional technologies of exploiting conventional energy sources. During apartheid, South Africa demonstrated that cheap coal can easily satisfy total demand for liquid and gaseous fuels.
In consideration of current high prices of hydrocarbon media (oil and gas), gasification or liquefaction of coal seems to be the innovative technology convergent with contemporary expectations of both energy producers as well as environmentalists. Known mainly from literature reports, underground coal gasification technologies can be brought down to two basic methods:
- shaftless method - drilling, in which the gasified seam is uncovered using boreholes drilled from the surface,
- shaft method, in which the existing infrastructure of underground mines is used to uncover the seams.
This paper presents a hybrid shaft-drilling approach to the acquisition of primary energy carriers (methane and syngas) from coal seams located at great depths. A major advantage of this method is the fact that the use of conventional coal mining technology requires the seams located at great depths to be placed on the off-balance sheet, while the hybrid method of underground gasification enables them to become a source of additional energy for the economy. It should be noted, however, that the shaft-drilling method cannot be considered as an alternative to conventional methods of coal extraction, but rather as a complementary and cheaper way of utilizing resources located almost beyond the technical capabilities of conventional extraction methods due to the associated natural hazards and high costs of combating them.
This article presents a completely different approach to the issue of underground coal gasification. Repurposing of the already fully depreciated mining infrastructure for the gasification process may result in a large value added of synthesis gas production and very positive economic effect.