City revolutionizes use of coal-bed methane

The recent operation of China's largest coal-bed methane field in Qinshui county in Jincheng city has made the headlines of the energy industry in Shanxi province.

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Workers check equipment at a coal-bed methane field in Jincheng. [Yu Yan /For China Daily]

The Northern China Branch Company of China National Petroleum Corp announced the launch of the operation of a coal-bed methane extraction well with an annual output of 550 million cubic meters in June, pushing the annual output of its Zhengzhuang-Fanzhuang coal-bed methane field to 2 billion cu m, the largest in the nation.

But it was nothing extraordinary for industry insiders in Jincheng, which pioneered the development and utilization of coal-bed methane in China in the 1990s and has since made steady progress.

Lanyan Coal-Bed Methane Group, based in Qinshui county, was the first company to operate a coal-bed methane extraction facility in the early 1990s, according to Feng Qilong, an executive of the company.

Contained in the same stratum with coal, coal-bed methane is usually seen as the byproduct released from coal mining, according to Feng. He added that it was traditionally viewed as a hazardous gas as its concentration reaching a certain degree could lead to a mining shaft explosion.

However, it could be turned into a clean fuel for industries and households if there are safe extraction, storing and transporting technologies in place.

"In China we pioneered the development of the technology to extract coal-bed methane on the surface in the 1990s," Feng said, "This marked a revolution in the coal-bed methane industry in terms of both efficiency and safety."

The success story of Lanyan has encouraged a number of domestic companies, including CNPC and China United Coal-bed Methane, to invest in the coal-bed methane industry in Jincheng.

According to Xing Haibin, head of Jincheng's energy bureau, these companies have invested a total of 38 billion yuan ($5.3 billion) in building more than 10,000 drilling wells in Jincheng.

Total output of the gas is expected to reach 7 billion cu m this year, making Jincheng the largest coal-bed methane production base in China. And the annual output is projected to hit 10 billion cu m by 2025, according to Xing.

The city also features diverse application scenarios for the coal-bed methane. The gas has been used as the fuel for power plants, ceramic companies, vehicles and households.

All the ceramic producers in Jincheng's Yangcheng Ceramics Industry Park, for instance, have used coal-bed methane to fire their kilns, taking the place of coal and substantially cutting the emissions of carbon dioxide and pollutants.

Xing predicted that the total output value of Jincheng's coal-bed methane industrial chain will reach 50 billion yuan in 2025 and surpass 100 billion yuan in 2030.

Wang Tianxiao contributed to this story. (By Yuan Shenggao)