A Scottish-Australian mining joint venture is targeting 1billion tonnes of clean coal from deep beneath the Firth of Forth to generate electricity for Scotland.
Fife-based Thornton New Energy and Australia’s Riverside Energy will jointly explore and develop the coal resources, and expect to create 200 jobs within a few years when the field is in commercial development.
Once exploration and testing is completed, the joint venture will use underground coal gasification (UCG) technology to make the most of the vast resources which remain under the Firth of Forth.
Thornton, a subsidiary of Aberdeen-based BCG Energy, became the first company to be awarded a licence for UCG in the UK early last year.
BCG was formed to harness the expertise of the North Sea oil and gas industry in the development of clean energy from coal.
Thornton said yesterday that, when combined with carbon-capture and storage technology, UCG could offer a sustainable, cheap, secure and environmentally benign energy supply which could last the UK for more than 1a century. Garron Lees, the Fife firm’s commercial director, said: “Riverside’s experience and skill in conventional mining complements our own expertise within BCG.
“Together, we will be able to develop UCG operations much faster than otherwise would be possible. We are looking at opportunities for clean coal around the world and that includes on Thornton’s doorstep here in Fife.”
The UCG licence awarded to Thornton in January 2009 covered 27 square miles of a coal field lying 3,280-6,560ft below the surface of the firth, which could not be mined with traditional technologies. The new joint-venture extends the field area to 95 square miles, with Riverside contributing millions of pounds to help to take the project forward to commercial development.
Riverside managing director Doug Goodall said: “Our experience led us to identify the Firth of Forth as one of Europe’s premier deposits for UCG.
“Our project will generate low-carbon electricity from coal. Electricity produced in this way has a much lower cost than from renewable sources and it delivers much greater energy efficiency than can be achieved by any modern coal power station.”
When it moves from exploration to commercial operation in two to three years, the UCG project will initially generate about 10 megawatts, sufficient to supply about 5,000 homes with low-carbon power, and the equivalent output of 20 wind turbines of almost 400ft high.
Further projects are planned which will eventually generate upwards of one gigawatt of energy from the field as it is developed.