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Alberta to Award C$285M to Underground Coal Gasification with Carbon Capture Project for Power Generation; 75% Lower GHG Intensity Than Existing Coal-Fired Generators

The Province of Alberta (Canada) has executed a letter of intent with Swan Hills Synfuels to provide a C$285 million (US$273 million) grant in support of a underground coal gasification (UCG) project that will reduce emissions by capturing and sequestering more than 1.3 million tonnes per year of CO2. (Earlier post.) Swan Hills calls the process in situ coal gasification (ISCG).

The Swan Hills Synfuels project will manufacture synthetic gas from deep, unmineable coal seams near Swan Hills, Alberta. This gas will be used to fuel a new 300 MW power plant to be developed near Whitecourt, Alberta. Swan Hills says the project will result in 75% lower greenhouse gas intensity than that of existing coal-fired power generators current in Alberta today, and just over 50% of the greenhouse gas intensity of natural gas-fired combined cycle generation.

ISCG Well Pair. Click to enlarge.

In the ISCG process, a well pair is drilled into the deep coal seam. A horizontal injection well is used to introduce oxygen and water into the seam; the oxygen supports a limited and controlled amount of combustion, raising the temperature of the coal and boiling the water to generate steam.

The naturally existing deep underground pressure, along with the elevated coal temperature and the presence of steam, together form the right conditions to gasify the coal. The vertical production well is used to conduct the raw syngas to the surface. Char and ash, which are remnants of the original coal, remain deep underground.

The coal seam for ISCG development at the Swan Hills Synfuels site is 1,400 m beneath the surface, approximately 800 m below the Base of Groundwater Protection (depth limit of fresh groundwater—below this depth, groundwater is saline), eliminating potential for fresh groundwater contamination, according to Swan Hills. Saline water is used for injection into the coal seam through the horizontal well, virtually eliminating the need for fresh water in the ISCG process.

The overall cost of the project is approximately C$1.5 billion (US$1.4 billion), with a planned in-service date in 2015.

Swan Hills Synfuels has entered into an agreement with PCL Industrial Management Inc. to construct the clean synthetic gas processing facility on a fixed price, schedule certain basis.

The power plant component of the project will be built, owned and operated by an experienced, major power generator partner, to be selected by Swan Hills Synfuels from a small number of parties who have been engaged in a competitive selection process for the last year.

The CO2 captured by the project will be used in the Swan Hills area for enhanced oil recovery, increasing conventional oil production in Alberta while permanently sequestering the CO2.



May be a smart way to produce usable energy if most of the CO2 produced can be effectively captured and used and if the underground waters are not contaminated by the process.

Who will have the ongoing monitoring responsibility and the power to shut it down when it doesn't meet established environmental standards?


That's something, but without limits on oil consumption the use of CO2 to increase production from oil fields creates a net increase in carbon emissions.  Not that I don't think it's a good idea, it just has to be managed carefully.


Instead of injecting oxygen and water, couldn't they inject oxygen and [a slurry of water and organic waste]?

This plant still emits megatons of CO2/year, so partially burning underground of the waste could make up for the lost CO2. The waste could be hard-to-handle toxic waste, manure, black liquor, ...
Again, all the ashes would remain underground.

After all, 1.5 B$ for only 300MW is around the price of wind turbines, and they don't emit CO2 at all.

Henry Gibson

All organic wastes on the surface of the earth can be converted to energy but there is not much of them to worry about. There is many times more energy in deaply buried coal seams and it will be interesting to fill up old oil deposit areas with CO2. Alberta should just buy CANDU 600 reactors and start on a coal free path. ..HG..

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