HC Deb 15 December 1997 vol 303 cc24-5W
Mr. Blizzard

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what assessment she has made of the feasibility of underground coal gasification as a source of energy. [20666]

Mr. Battle

My Department is participating in a European field trial of underground coal gasification (UCG) as part of our coal R and D programme. This is a joint project involving Spain, Belgium and the UK with substantial financial support from the European Commission's THERMIE Demonstration programme. The total cost of the project which started in 1991 is £14 million and the UK contribution is £1.7 million. The project is due to end next year once the current gasification trials have been completed. Results to date have shown the feasibility of gasifying Western European coals at depths in excess of 500 metres. The gas produced from the present trials had a calorific value of approaching a third that of natural gas. This is better than the gas produced by some clean coal gasification power generation processes and indicates UGC technology may offer a potential energy source for power generation in the future.

The economics of UGC will be evaluated in more detail on completion of the current gasification trials. Underground coal gasification may be an attractive primary energy source in the longer term. It is currently many times more expensive than current gas prices, and likely to remain so for many years even when the technical problems have been overcome. The technology could be used to access coal reserves too deep for conventional mining (both opencast and deep mine). In the longer term it could be used to access the vast reserves of high volatile coal located beneath the North Sea. At least 10 years of R and D work is likely to be needed before underground coal gasification can even be considered to be a commercial option.