Credit: US Department of Energy
Coal is cheap, abundant, and responsible for
about 40 per
cent of the world's electricity generation. That's a
problem, because it also has some of the highest greenhouse gas
emissions of any energy source. It's no wonder that a technology
that could allow the world to continue burning coal - but cleanly -
is being met with some excitement, then.
Writing in the
Telegraph at the end of last year, Algy Cluff, chief
executive of energy company Cluff Natural Resources, said
'underground coal gasification' could "provide a vital energy
solution and produce abundant and cheap gas for generations". The
technology briefly put its head above the parapet again today, as
BBC asked whether it be "the clean energy of the
The prospect has certainly piqued the government's
interest, with energy minister Michael Fallon
establishing a working group to explore its
But is it too good to be true? We explore underground
coal gasification's prospects and try to separate the theory from
What is underground coal
Underground coal gasification (UCG) involves drilling
down into coal - normally deep underground - then igniting it. The
resulting gas then runs up another borehole and is collected on the
surface, as the diagram below shows:
Once the gas is collected, companies can use it to run
power stations, or convert it into transport fuel. Carbon capture
and storage (CCS) technology can be added, reducing the process'
emissions, and making it relatively 'clean'.
As such, the government now sees the "exciting potential" of UCG
as means to generate abundant, domestically-sourced, ostensibly
fairly low carbon power in the UK, the Telegraph
So, what are UCG's prospects in the UK?