Case studies

Underground coal gasification


The world’s first ever trial of what is known as coal gasification was carried out in 1912 in Durham by Sir William Ramsay, and today, around five billion tonnes of coal, still lies beneath the North East.

Modern technologies can burn much of the deeper lying coal underground, producing a gas to fuel power stations. Up to 90% of the carbon dioxide produced would be put back into the ground.

This ‘clean coal’ process could be an important future energy alternative, says Professor Dermot Roddy, Director of the Sir Joseph Swan Institute at Newcastle University.

Newcastle Science City’s focus on sustainable energy would get a major boost from harnessing the process. “This is a very big opportunity,” said Prof. Roddy. “International investors are coming here for ideas about how they might be able to deploy these technologies worldwide.”

He explained that Progressive Energy has proposed an 800MW coal gasification power plant at Eston Grange in Tees Valley.

While this would cost over £1 billion to develop – a price comparable with a large nuclear power station – Prof. Roddy hopes a pilot plant could be created in the next few years to prove the viability of the process.

A great advantage of coal gasification is that each plant would avoid three million tonnes a year of carbon dioxide being emitted into the atmosphere.

This would make a big contribution towards carbon dioxide reduction targets to combat climate change, while meeting future energy needs alongside renewables such as wind and solar power as oil and natural gas runs out.