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Skiing with coalmine methane

World Coal,

A ski resort in the US Elk Mountains uses coalmine methane (CMM) to power its sprawling complex, in one of the nation’s largest projects of its kind.

Oxbow Mining LLC, owner and operator of the Elk Creek coal mine in Colorado, joined forces with Vessels Coal Gas, Gunnison Energy, Aspen Skiing Co., and Holy Cross Energy to build the US$ 6 million power plant, fuelled by CMM.

Vessels Coal Gas oversaw the installation of the 3 MW power plant, which incorporates internal combustion engine technology, modified by Vessels, to efficiently burn gas from the mine, which has a methane concebtratin of approximately 30%. The power plant main components comprise three 1500 hp gensets, an electric substation, a gas conditioning skid, and measurement and control systems. The plant is callable with possible addition of extra gensets.

The power plant produces enough electricity to meet the needs of the entire operations for Aspen Skiing, which includes four ski slopes, three hotels and 17 restaurants.

Aspen Skiing Co. chief executing, Mike Kaplan, describes the plant as “the most exciting, innovative, optimistic, coolest project I've ever been associated with."

The system cleans and compresses the methane before running it through three generators and feeding onsite substations connected to the Delta-Montrose Electric Association grid. Eventually the power reaches the network of Holy Cross Energy, which is the first rural electrical utility to buy coal mine methane-generated electricity.

Kaplan says he is keen for other companies to follow suit, and Aspen Skiing have been in talks with an Illinois coal mine over developing a similar project.

The Elk Creek project was funded mainly by Aspen Skiing Co. The project is estimated to eliminate approximately 96 000 t of CO2/year, with a projected life of at least 15 years. 

Written by Sam Dodson

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