Methane burner to reduce coal mines’ emissions

A new methane burner, developed at the University of Sydney and under consideration by mining companies, has potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from underground coal mines by almost 90 per cent.

The process of mining coal accounts for about 6 per cent of methane emissions caused by human activity, University of Sydney Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies, Associate Professor Andrew Harris said.

If adopted by industry, the burner would substantially reduce the coal mining industry’s greenhouse gas liability, should emissions trading take effect.

“Emissions occur when air is pumped into underground ground coal mines for ventilation, releasing methane into the atmosphere,” he said. “This reduces the risk of explosions but significantly increases greenhouse gas levels. Methane is about 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of its contribution to global warming.”

The burner developed by Associate Professor Harris and his colleagues burns methane, converting it into the less harmful carbon dioxide and water before releasing it into the atmosphere.

“Our burner uses porous combustion media allowing for ultra-lean combustion that transforms methane into carbon dioxide and water at concentrations much lower than a traditional burner. This process can immediately reduce greenhouse gas emissions from underground coal mines by 87 per cent, providing an effective short-term solution for an industry seeking to reduce its footprint.”

A full scale version of the burner – measuring three metres high and weighing about a tonne – has been built on site at the university and successfully trialled by Associate Professor Harris and others in his Laboratory for Sustainable Technology.

The next step towards rollout of the burner is trialling it at a mine for a year. Associate Professor Harris’ research group is currently negotiating a trial with an industry partner.

The project was funded by the Australian Coal Association Research Program (ACARP) and the NSW Government’s Climate Change Fund.

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