Nov. 30, 2012
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LLNL to work with Interior Department on underground coal gasification

LLNL's Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) Program has received a two-year research grant to study water-quality hazard mitigation strategies from the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE).

OSMRE is a Department of the Interior bureau charged with ensuring the public and the environment are protected during and after coal mining operations. In recent years, several states, such as Wyoming and Alaska, have received permit applications for UCG projects.

To respond to the growth in UCG activity, OSMRE is coordinating a working group of federal, state and tribal regulators, who are developing best-practices guidelines for granting permits for new projects.

UCG is a promising technology for converting coal to an energy-rich gas. It has the cleanliness and carbon capture advantages of surface gasification and avoids many of the safety and environmental hazards of mining.

But, on occasion, UCG has had a mixed history for groundwater contamination. According to LLNL UCG Program Leader David Camp, some of the past UCG field tests have had problems with contamination, while others have demonstrated clean operation.

"We believe we understand the principles of clean operation. The information we develop under this $200,000 grant will help regulators do their job of assuring minimal environmental impacts."

LLNL is unique in having both an extensive historical experience in UCG, including operating several field tests in the 1970's and 1980's, and an active current program, centered on modeling.

"Collaboration with OSMRE was a natural fit." says Lab researcher Joshua White, who wrote the proposal and will lead the project. "It will allow LLNL to share our significant experience and understanding of strategies to mitigate water quality hazards."

Camp describes the grant as "a perfect opportunity for us to serve the public interest."

According to OSMRE's UCG Team Leader/Western Region Applied Science contact, Duane Matt, "OSMRE is very pleased to be associated with such a laboratory like LLNL. Not only are we able to collaborate with LLNL on the development of UCG guidelines for our customers -- coal mining states and tribes -- but we are also able to learn more about an exciting new technology. This collaboration will serve the public by thoroughly examining this type of technology and helping them understand its possible uses."