Underground Coal Gasification (UCG)
According to the EIA, world annual coal consumption is expected to increase by 50% to ~9 billion tons by 2030. With growing concerns about global warming largely from CO2 emissions, governments are stepping up measures on CO2 sequestration. On average, thousands of miners worldwide are killed each year extracting coal from underground to feed coal-fired surface power plants. Moreover, fly ash is a by-product of coal combustion which is considered a hazardous material. The fly ash is usually deposited in specially-designed landfills or dumped in man-made earthen dams. Seeps and dam failures have previously occurred in which billions of gallons of fly ash spilled and contaminated nearby rivers, destroyed homes, caused fatalities, and injured local residents.
One sensible technology that addresses the three major concerns of coal usage (i.e., CO2 emissions, miner safety, and potential environmental problems) is the “Underground Coal Gasification”. In-situ gasification on a small commercial and pilot test scales have been conducted for over 40 years in countries with extensive coal reserves. However, no major commercial development of UCG resulted because there were adequate capacity from surface power plants to supply the necessary electricity and global warming was not a major concern then. Today, the landscape is completely different.
The schematic diagram below shows how the UCG technology is utilized in which coal is gasified in-situ and the produced syngas is used to generate electricity. It is obvious that UCG will result in much lower CAPEX and OPEX. Issues associated with CO2 emissions, exposing miners to unsafe conditions, and fly ash handling is minimized. Moreover, UCG will permit operators access coal seams that are deemed too difficult, uneconomic, and unsafe to mine, resulting in higher recovery rates of a nation’s coal deposits.
It is important to remember that the nuclear accident that occurred at the Three Mile Island power plant in Pennsylvania on March 28, 1979, severely impacted the nuclear power industry. No new nuclear power plants were built thereafter in the USA. Likewise, any private or government entities wanting to venture into UCG technology should carefully and thoroughly do their “homework” and conduct “due diligence” before proceeding. Otherwise, a major UCG accident could derail further development and utilization of this useful concept.
To avoid or minimize potential underground accidents, it is imperative that all UCG proposed sites are carefully surveyed and studied. The schematic diagram below shows the drilling method as the primary exploration tool to evaluate reserves. The major limitation with this method is that the drillholes are usually spaced thousands of feet apart. Geologic anomalies and man-made structures could easily be missed and create additional problems or challenges to UCG development.
To gather important subsurface data between drillholes, high-resolution 2D and 3D surface seismic surveys are necessary. However, there are only a handful of experts in the world who knows how to properly execute such geophysical projects. From 1985 to 2000, Gochioco successfully built the country’s only multi-faceted coal geophysics program for Consol Energy Inc. Consol is the largest operator of longwall mines in the USA. His 15-year tenure at the Earth Sciences Group of Consol Energy R&D provided him valuable experiences and understanding of the complex dynamics in underground mining conditions. He frequently worked in multi-disciplinary (Geology, Geophysics, Hydrogeology, and Rock Mechanics) projects. To this day, LMG&A Inc. is the only US firm that possesses the expertise to conduct such geophysical services to the US and global coal industry.
Therefore, site characterization is the first major step in identifying good UCG sites and avoiding potential major pitfalls. Similar to nuclear reactors, the roof and floor rocks that bound the coal seam should be very competent to control and contain the “reaction”. This will permit the operator to better manage syngas production. In case of emergencies, the reaction could easily be turned off when necessary. Several US and international business entities have already approached LMG&A Inc. seeking the founder’s knowledge and expertise on site characterization and future monitoring, including possible future joint ventures.
GeoNano™ Technology & Environmental Services Division
Despite the global recession and tight credit markets, LMG&A Inc. is moving forward with plans to open an office in Manila, Philippines, in 2009 to serve the Asia-Pacific region. The subsidiary will also provide valuable geotechnical support to expanding US operations on a wide spectrum of global energy and environmental challenges requiring the deployment and development of innovative geophysical and nanotechnologies applied to Earth Sciences.
The subsidiary is in the process of negotiating with a renowned local engineering and technical university to jointly collaborate on such future projects.
LM Gochioco & Assoc. Inc. (USA) and GeoSignals Ltd (Mongolia)
Mongolia is a landlocked country bounded by Russia to the north and China to the south. The land area is about 603,909 square miles, approximately 30% larger than the State of Alaska. While the rest of the world experienced a lot of mineral and petroleum exploration and production in the 20th century, Mongolia experienced very little attention as there were no outside markets ready for the country to export their produced products. Even after the country held its first multi-party election in July 29, 1990, foreign investments and interests in Mongolia were minimal. Thus, the country is considered largely under-explored.
However, as global demands for energy resources and commodities continued to grow annually coupled with decreasing spare capacities, Mongolia came on the radar screen of some Asian national companies and multinationals. For example, China consumes nearly 2.2 billion tons of coal per year, and in 2007, China became a net coal importer. Mongolia possesses extensive coal deposits and is strategically located next to China. By supplying Mongolian coal to China, pressure in the international coal market will ease leading to more stable prices and supplies.
Mongol Gazar LLC initially contracted the services of Lawrence M. Gochioco to conduct an onsite pre-survey investigation of their licensed coal property last November 2007. A major coal seismic exploration study was planned in 2008. The proposed study area is shown in the background. After a weeklong field investigation of the South Gobi Desert, Gochioco remarked “This region reminds me so much of the Middle East in the 1930s right before the big American oil rush.”
Mongolia’s 1st US-trained seismic crew for mineral exploration.
Mr. Uguumur Gotovsuren, Director of GeoSignals Ltd. (left standing) and Lawrence M. Gochioco, President of LM Gochioco & Associates Inc. (2nd from right standing), formed a strategic alliance. The joint venture will permit LMG&A Inc. to provide valuable training and technical support to all geophysical projects to be conducted by GeoSignals Ltd. This should result in the employment of advanced geophysical technologies to explore, map, and produce Mongolia’s rich mineral deposits.
Gochioco is a fine arts collector. It is no surprise that someday his passion will someday lead him to meet soon-to-be world famous painters. One particular special artist is Pan Quan Hai. Pan’s style of combining Chinese Calligraphy and Modern Impressionist is very unique. His artworks have been shown in galleries in New York, Dallas, Houston, Beijing, and Shanghai. Ming Zhang is the exclusive agent for Pan and began arranging live auctions of his paintings.
“Pan is a brilliant artist. His unique painting style will someday make him famous worldwide as China’s Picasso. His masterpieces will soon be much sought after by sophisticated collectors” L. M. Gochioco. (www.panquanhai.com).
Artist Pan Quan Hai (left), Ming Zhang – Megar International, and Lawrence Gochioco (right) at his art exhibit in the Rice University Farnsworth Pavilion Art Gallery, June 8-14, 2008.
Helen T. Chang, Director – MOAID City of Houston, presents a certificate to Pan acknowledging his contributions to the city’s diverse fine arts & cultural heritage. One of Pan’s favorite masterpieces named, Blue Eyes, is shown on right.
Other art connoisseurs and artists attended Pan’s show at the Farnsworth Pavilion Art Gallery.