SA explores coal-to-gas potential


11 June 2013

South African state company Eskom and petrochemicals firm Sasol have signed a research agreement to explore the potential of underground coal gasification (UCG) technology to boost the country’s energy reserves.

“The agreement includes knowledge sharing and aims at research cooperation between the two parties in evaluating UCG technology,” Eskom said in a statement on Monday.

“UCG is a coal-to-synthesis gas technology that uses air or oxygen to gasify coal in the coal deposit underground through a series of injection and extraction wells.”

Eskom established its UCG technology development in 2002 and piloted the project for five years; results showed that the technology worked and was able to extract energy from complex, poor quality coal resources.

The next step is to improve the quality of the gas, and Eskom and Sasol have a licensing agreement with Canadian technology partner Ergo Exergy Technologies for this role.


‘Economic, social, environmental potential’


“Eskom is proud of its role as a global leader in this technology, which we believe has huge potential to produce economic, social and environmental returns,” said Eskom’s sustainability division group executive, Steve Lennon.

“At the same time, this is not a project we can execute alone, and partnerships such as the one [with Sasol] will help us maximise the benefits to South Africa.”

Coal is an essential part of the national and global energy mix, and UCG has the potential to provide opportunities in terms of mining; it may more than double South Africa’s current coal reserves, according to Eskom.

“We are excited about UCG as a technology for Sasol and specifically in the South African environment,” said Sasol’s new energy managing director, Henri Loubser.

Sasol’s new energy division was created to explore renewable and lower-carbon energy opportunities ranging from solar and wind power to hydroelectric, clean coal and natural gas-based power.

“UCG has the potential to utilise coal that is not minable through conventional mining technologies,” Loubser said.

SAinfo reporter