Date of Graduation
Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering
Penney, William Roy
The mission of the Coal Fire Gang (CFG) is to spread awareness about the global issue of uncontrolled coal fires, and to highlight them as a low-hanging fruit of immediate emissions reduction. This report summarizes CFG’s research for the WERC competition, for which this topic was chosen as an open task. Beyond raising awareness, CFG modeled, developed and built an experimentation apparatus meant to prove the validity of a relatively cheap extinguishing method which was also novel to the regions in which it could be employed. The apparatus, which simulated an underground coal fire, was used to test a sand and water extinguishing method. CFG’s results on the experimental research side suggest that the sand and water approach to extinguishing coal fires, though requiring attention and labor for long periods of time (up to a few years depending on how long the coal fire has been burning prior to extinguishing activities), is very cost effective. Exact economics of a particular coal fire would have to be determined on a case-by-case basis, depending on the size and age of the fire, but those costs include only sand, water, labor, and heavy equipment to transport the sand around. The proposed extinguishing technique involves capping all exhaust vents of a fire with sand, and then saturating the sand with water. The steam created by the water on contact with the heated ground and coal then expands and flows through the cavity, flowing out of what were originally combustion air influent vents. This flow reversal could significantly reduce the oxygen intake while also removing heat. Over time, as more vents are discovered or created, they can be capped in the same manner. On the economics side, CFG proved that even at conservative estimates of the cost to extinguish fires and the cost of alternative CO2 sequestering methods, extinguishing coal fires is the for immediate global emission reduction. CFG proposes that coal fires around the world are prioritized ahead of new and expensive technology for emission reduction, and that at the very least the emissions from coal fires are drawn into some regulating system so that they can be tracked and better managed.
Tomlinson, Turner, "Coal fires: an Environmental Disaster" (2014). Chemical Engineering Undergraduate Honors Theses. 70.