First trialled in the Durham coalfields in 1912, UCG involves gasification of coal underground through the introduction of steam and oxygen via boreholes. The resultant gas, called syngas, is drawn to the surface via neighbouring production boreholes. Cavities left by the gasified coal can offer an ideal environment for long term carbon capture and storage, which means that CO2 emissions are 85% less than those from conventional coal-fired power stations. With modern directional drilling technology, the process is also capable of remotely exploiting seams too deep or geologically unsuitable for conventional mining, without putting the health and safety of a single miner at risk or creating any surface ash or dust.
With coal reserves widely distributed round the globe, UCG can play a major role in bridging the energy gap until renewables are sufficiently advanced to meet global energy demand and the North East of England is better placed than any region in Europe to exploit it: 75% of the UK’s coal resources (equivalent to 600 years supply at the current rate of use, are still in place below the deepest mine workings; and it has world-class expertise in deep mining, process engineering and – should Britain seek to exploit undersea coal resources – offshore engineering.