Homer Alaska - Business

Story last updated at 11:17 AM on Wednesday, October 26, 2011

CIRI continues work on coal gasification project

Morris News Service - Alaska

Cook Inlet Region Inc. is continuing its work on a potential commercial-scale underground coal gasification project, the first in North America, and will begin a high-resolution shallow seismic survey at a proposed site for the project in November.

Ethan Schutt, vice president for lands for CIRI, told the Alaska State Senate's natural resources committee Thursday that CIRI is working on lands it owns about 60 miles west of Anchorage and that geologic modeling, completed on a basis on 13 test core holes, has confirmed presence of thick coal seams below the 600-foot depth. This is the depth at which CIRI would target an underground gasification project.

CIRI has now commissioned a high-resolution shallow seismic program, the data from which will allow modeling to be completed, Schutt said. Three seismic survey lines, each eight miles long, will be done, he said.

Underground coal gasification involves combustion in a deep coal seam with production of a synthesis gas, a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide, up a production well from the coal seam. The combustion is regulated by air injected through a separate well.

Synthesis gas would be used either in power generation or, through a process of upgrading, in the manufacture of a synthetic natural gas or other products, Schutt said. Synthetic natural gas would be almost identical to the gas used by Enstar Natural Gas Co. in its system and could be a substitute for that gas.

The coal resource is very large, Schutt said.

"CIRI has identified about 300 million tons of coal in the project area, which is the equivalent of 4.8 trillion cubic feet of gas," he said.

The gasification technology can be scaled up in increments, so it can start small and be expanded. Based on conceptual work so far the company believes it can supply a synthetic natural gas to the local market for less than prevailing prices, Schutt told the legislators.

Utilities in Southcentral Alaska are now purchasing natural gas from producing companies for prices of about $6 to $8 per thousand cubic feet.

Tim Bradner is a reporter for the Alaska Journal of Commerce.