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What is Coal Gasification?

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  • Written By: Autumn Rivers
  • Edited By: J.T. Gale
  • Last Modified Date: 23 August 2016
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Those concerned with the environment have been searching for a source of alternative fuel for years. Some believe that they have found it in the underground coal gasification process that produces synthetic gas. While not many people have likely heard about this type of technology, it is not new.

What many consider unique about underground coal gasification is that it takes advantage of certain natural resources that abound on this planet, namely coal. In general, the point of this process is to turn a mixture of coal, air, and water into synthetic gas, or syngas. This can be attained by applying high heat and pressure. Once the fuel's minerals are separated, the result is the sought after syngas, which is now a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide.

Coal gasification begins when professionals drill two wells in the coal seam, which is the space just above where the planet's coal is located. The next step is to push air into the first well and then ignite the coal until its temperature is sufficiently high. This rise in heat typically should create carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and a small bit of both hydrogen sulfide and methane.

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During the next phase, oxidants are pumped through the first well. The point of this action is to push the newly developed mixture of gases, or synthetic gas, toward the second well. Once it reaches the surface, it will be filtered enough that it will result in what is termed clean fuel. Only then can it be used to power objects like automobiles.

Coal gasification might be considered a dirty process if it took place on the earth's surface. The fact that the result of the technology is filtered underground before seeing the light of day makes it quite a clean procedure. Impurities like sulfur are eliminated before anyone can use the resulting gas.

This process was created in the late 1800s, and has been slowly developed since then by myriad countries. Due to the increasing price of oil in the early 21st century, some former skeptics have started to take this technology more seriously than before. Both diesel and regular fuel have been created, and some companies have also found other uses for coal gasification. For example, the hydrogen released from the process can be used to make ammonia.

There are opponents of using coal to make natural gas. They claim that coal gasification causes greenhouse emissions to be released into the air, perhaps furthering global warming. Many of them attest that this resource is just as bad as using oil, which could be why the idea has not received much publicity since its inception.

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