Update from the 35th Pittsburgh Coal Conference

The 35th Pittsburgh Coal Conference took place in Xuzhou, China from 15-18 October 2018. The conference was co-hosted by China University of Mining Technology (CUMT) and the University of Pittsburgh.

The theme of this year’s event was clean coal-based energy/fuels and the environment. About 350 technical papers and posters were presented in six parallel sessions which covered a broad spectrum of topics: power plants, combustion, clean coal demonstration and commercial projects, value-added products from coal, gasification technologies, coal science, carbon management, sustainability and environment, rare earth elements, coal bed and shale gas, clean coal and gas to fuels, and coal mining and beneficiation. Most of the delegates were academics and researchers, so the majority of the presentations delivered results from theoretical laboratory research or modelling, even in the demonstration sessions. Around half of the presentations were from China. I presented my current report on Support mechanisms for cofiring biomass with coal which generated considerable interest from the USA, Japan, and China.

There were 8 keynote speakers; mainly from China. Four of the keynotes were on mining, and covered robotic mining technology and the development of the Chinese mining industry. One of the keynotes was presented by Professor Li Yang from the Chinese Academy of Engineering on the subject of Carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS) technology and its industrial development in China. China is focused on the utilisation aspect of CCUS as CCS is considered too expensive. Apart from deep sea burial, EGR, and EWR, China is also working on utilising CO2 through chemical engineering and biological methods, although it is still at an early stage.

Another interesting keynote was delivered by Dr Aleksander Sobolewski from the Institute of Chemical Processing of Coal, Poland. He analysed the future of coal in Poland, as an example of a coal based economy.

Coal will remain the basis for energy security in Poland for the foreseeable future. Dr Sobolewski concluded that clean coal technologies are, and will be, necessary in Europe as part of the new energy strategy.

He considered some EU environmental regulations, for example the Emissions Trading System (ETS), to be barriers to clean energy development, especially for new demo plants.

Mr Francis Lau shared US company Synthesis Energy Systems’ successful story of SES gasification technology from R&D through to commercialisation in China. SES gasification technology enables the low-cost production of clean synthesis gas from all ranks of coal, biomass and wastes. The technology was first developed in the USA in 2007. Through joint venture operations with Chinese organisations, fuel gas was produced to replace natural gas at Tianwo-SES and syngas to methanol was produced at Yima. More projects were launched in Shandong, Shanxi and Henan provinces from 2015 to 2016.

Before the conference, we visited the China University of Mining and Technology, including two State Key laboratories. We also visited a land reclamation site, Pan’an Lake. It is located in Jiawang district in Xuzhou, a mining area in the past which had over 250 mines at peak time. After more than one hundred years of mining, the surface gradually began to subside and the ground collapsed which led to the accumulation of stagnant water. However, since 2010, the area has been gradually reclaimed and turned into a lake with wetland.