Underground coal mines present a unique opportunity for the coal industry to turn methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into a clean and profitable source of energy. Methane is naturally emitted from coal mine seams and must be removed to keep workers safe. However, it is often vented into the air, wasting a valuable energy resource and missing an opportunity to generate revenue and reduce emissions into the atmosphere.
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Some coal companies are taking innovative steps to increase their recovery and use of methane. Earlier this year, a JWR-operated coal mine in Alabama became the first active mine in the US to destroy dilute methane (typically less than 1% concentration) from its ventilation shafts. Using commercially available thermal oxidation technology, the mine is reducing its methane emissions by about 40,000 tpa of CO2 equivalent, generating bankable carbon credits in the US voluntary trading market. In Australia, an even more ambitious project has been successfully operating for more than two years. The BHP West Cliff colliery recovers dilute methane from one ventilation shaft to generate 6 MW of electricity. To date, it has generated more than 500,000 carbon credits (traded under the New South Wales emission trading scheme) and over 80 GWh of electricity. A number of similar projects are operating or under development in China and elsewhere. The international Methane to Markets Partnership is helping to bring these technologies to coal mines around the world. The partnership, which includes 31 partner countries and more than 900 affiliated private sector and non-Governmental organisations, is helping to identify promising opportunities, provide country-specific and site-specific information, conduct feasibility assessments and technology demonstrations, and work to eliminate policy barriers. Project opportunities will be showcased at the upcoming Partnership Expo in New Delhi, India, from 2 – 5 March 2010. The forward-looking coal companies and partners who mitigate emissions or recover energy from coal mine methane are finding innovative ways to protect the environment, strengthen the global economy, and transform what would be harmful pollution into a profitable source of clean energy.