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President Obama has directed federal agencies to "develop a comprehensive methane strategy" and the Environmental Protection Agency has identified around 50 U. Methane energy proponents are hopeful that a forthcoming vote in California will ultimately make the technology more profitable coast to coast.

Jeremy Nichols, director of climate and energy programs for the non-profit environmental advocacy group WildEarth Guardians, says classifying methane "is not the purpose of a renewable energy standard. At concentrations around 20 to 40 percent, the gas can fuel power generation as it does at Elk Creek, or industrial boilers that generate steam or hot water. Last Name.

Comment on this Story. The Innovative Spirit. World History. Yet if a nanoporous zeolite or other material can be developed that readily captures methane molecules, it could dramatically reduce the cost of generating electricity from the highly diluted waste methane of coal mines. Like this article?

Address 2. In a Colorado valley where miners have harvested coal for more than a century, a second fuel—methane—escapes from the thick black seams of the Elk Creek mine. Ask Smithsonian. Curators' Corner.


Only about 20 of the more than active underground coal mines nationwide have installed any type of system for capturing methane or converting it to electricity. Travel Virtual Travel. Address 1. The creek loops ventilated coal mine air through chambers that increase its temperature until methane molecules break down into carbon dioxide and water, and the heat from this reaction is captured.

Other scientists are looking to develop better filters for separating the methane in ventilated air from unneeded gases like carbon dioxide and nitrogen. This system generates heat to produce steam, which in turn runs a small power plant producing an average of 10 gigawatt hours per year. At concentrations above 80 percentmethane can be injected into natural gas pipelines or converted into liquefied natural gas for vehicles.

Ingenuity Ingenuity Awards. But those projects have benefited from tax incentives womens married forms of public support, as well as costlier natural gas and electricity—which allows them to sell methane Elk at higher Hot. Several months later, Colorado passed a new law that requires large rural electric co-ops, and the utilities that serve them, to get 20 percent of their energy from California sources by —doubling a requirement set in The law recognizes methane alongside continually replenished resources like wind and solar as a renewable resource, a policy strongly opposed by some environmental groups and green energy advocates.

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Scientists with the University of California, Berkeley and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, for example, have looked at a highly sorbent material marked by nano-scale pores called nanoporous zeolites. At a large coal mine in China's Henan Province, ventilated air with methane concentrations as low 0.

Travel With Us. Outdoor Travel. At this point, the research remains in early stages. And until recently, technology has limited mine operators to harnessing energy only from coal mine emissions with relatively high concentrations of methane. Mah Jong Quest. Future of Space Exploration.

Due in part to these challenges, methane-laced ventilated air is typically released to the atmosphere, as it is at Elk Creek. Tom Vessels, president of Denver, Colorado-based energy developer Vessels Coal and Gas, began seeking partners and financiers for a coal mine methane-to-energy project womens after touring a of mines using the technology in Germany.

Elk Creek is the first methane-to-energy project at a coal mine west of the Mississippi and the largest of its Elk nationwide. In Australia, a coal plant owned by BHP Billiton combines ventilated air creek with highly concentrated methane that has been drained into boreholes drilled near the mine before mining begins. Beyond policy, innovative techniques are making it possible to scavenge methane from very dilute Hot, such as the ventilated air in mine shafts, and use it as fuel for generators.

Earth Optimism Summit. Games Daily Sudoku. Continue or Give a Gift. Elk Creek offers a model for harnessing this waste through private partnerships in a married and place where electricity from natural gas is relatively cheap. Daily Word Search. Special Report Energy Innovation. Science Age of Humans. Most U. True, it had not been done in the U. Holy Cross Energy, a rural electricity cooperative, ed on to pay slightly above market rates for electricity from the project in exchange for a year contract and a new, cleaner source of electricity.

The group has used computer models to test nearlydifferent zeolite structures, says Amitesh Maiti, a materials physicist at the Lawrence Livermore lab. Methane dissipates more quickly than carbon, but its strength as a greenhouse gas over a year period is more than 20 times California of CO2.

Burning methane can generate energy or useful heat while lessening its climate impact—essentially reducing the gas to a weaker brew of water and carbon dioxide.

By stopping methane from entering the atmosphere, the project will prevent emissions equivalent to more than 96, metric tons of CO2 annually over the next 15 years, according to estimates from its main funder, Aspen Skiing Company. Our Planet.

Change is afoot at the federal level, too. According to a United Nations' reportmost medium- and high-quality methane is used to generate either power or a combination of power and useful heat.

Elk Creek is unusual among U. Similar methane-to-energy technology has been installed at mines in Europe, Australia, China and other countries for decades. Subscribe Top Menu. The project began feeding electricity to the power grid last year for distribution throughout western Colorado. Finally, Elk Creek owner Oxbow Mining, led by energy magnate William Koch, agreed to let Vessels install equipment at its mine in exchange for a small cut of annual power sales. In the process, it could make this source of methane too valuable as a fuel to carry on its mantle as a harmful, nuisance waste to be thrown away.

Featured: Reflections on the Remnants of the Tulsa Massacre. Much of the methane coming out of coal mine shafts, however, is in low concentrations, mixed together with nitrogen, oxygen and other contaminants. New Research. The gas also seeps from swamps, industrial flues, landfills, cattle farms and natural gas operations.

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This is because operators typically use ventilation systems to dilute any methane leaking into mine shafts with fresh air for worker safety: at 5 to 15 percent concentration in air, methane is explosive, and concentrations below 1 percent are required for healthy breathing. In western states like Colorado, coal mines are often located far from natural gas pipelines, so harnessing even high-quality methane from these sites demands a different approach. A system of boreholes and pipes around the mine funnels methane-rich gas to a modified truck engine.

Historically, the owners of mines like Elk Creek in the U. The gas sells for such low prices these days relative to other fuels that it would take many years to recoup the cost of installing the systems necessary to harvest it.

Using a trio of one-megawatt generators, the engine converts this methane to electricity for the local power grid. If approved, the protocol would allow coal mine operators and methane emitters nationwide to earn credits for reducing their emissions. Human Behavior.

Coal mine methane could soon transform from problematic waste to valuable fuel

But coal mines like Elk Creek contribute about 10 percent of methane emissions nationally and 6 percent of methane emissions worldwide, and they continue to release methane long after mining operations have ended. And of those 20 mines, most are simply taking methane collected in drainage holes and injecting it into nearby natural gas pipelines for use by homes and businesses. Video Contest. History Archaeology. This methane is typically collected into boreholes drilled around the site before actual mining begins.

Photo of the Day. Video Ingenuity Awards. A combination of policy changes, creative new partnerships and technology innovation now means Elk Creek could be leading a much larger wave of similar projects harvesting methane from coal mines. Mixed together, methane from the vents and the drains can be burned as fuel.

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