Hatfield Colliery near Doncaster is proving that the UK coal mining industry is more progressive and forward-thinking than popular perception gives it credit for.
For many people during the past three decades, the perception of the UK mining industry has been one of a sector in decline. However, Hatfield Colliery is turning such assumptions around, providing ample proof that UK mining is very much alive and kicking, thanks to a cleaner, greener approach to coal usage.
Hatfield Colliery closed down in 2001 at a time when the future seemed very bleak for mining and the communities that had supported it since the rich coal seam was first exploited sometime around 1908.
The land to the north-east of Doncaster, between Hatfield and Thorne, had always been rich in coal reserves, with several seams of good quality, low ash content coal. By 1921, Hatfield Main was in full production, with excellent transport routes thanks to local railway, canal and river outlets to the Humber, combined with unlimited demand for coal. The region offered what seemed to be a hugely optimistic future.
Closure was announced some 80 years later on 9 August 2001 and for several weeks, the future of the mine hung in the balance. Then in October of that year, Richard Budge took over the running of the colliery under the name of his new company, Coal Power.
By 2006, Budge had launched a new enterprise called Powerfuel plc and not long after that an announcement was made that Kuzbassrazrezugol, one of the largest coal producers in Russia, had acquired a 51 per cent stake in Powerfuel.
In August 2006 the new company announced contract arrangements with Joy Mining Machinery for two sets of coal cutting, support and ancillary equipment for longwall faces at its Hatfield Colliery, near Doncaster, in a deal worth a total of £37 million. The significant investment in capital equipment and the full refurbishment of the colliery were expected to see Hatfield back into full production as early as 2009 and possibly producing as much as two million tonnes of coal per year.
In reality, after £150 million of investment that created 400 jobs, longwall coal face production resumed at Hatfield in 2007. Longwall mining is a form of underground coal mining where a long wall of coal is mined in a single slice (typically one to two metres thick). The concept dates back to the late 17th century when miners would undercut the coal along the width of the coal face, removing coal as it fell and using wooden props to control the fall of the roof behind the face.
Powerfuel Mining was able to resurrect the Doncaster colliery, having created access routes to no less than 27 million tonnes of high quality reserves in the Barnsley seam as a result of the purchase of new tunnelling equipment.
Further evidence of the resurgence of mining in the area came with the announcement in November 2008 that Doncaster College was admitting 40 mining apprentices, over 20 of whom hailed from Hatfield Colliery, for the first time in three years. At that time, Michael Neil, the college course leader for Mining Engineering, commented: "The College has a long and successful history of working closely with the mining industry and these relationships have led to 43 mining apprentices starting training this autumn."
At the same time, Rob Lucas, training and development manager at Powerfuel Mining, said: "Mining today has changed significantly from past generations with the modern miners integrating technology in every aspect of their work. With the recent investment at Hatfield Colliery in new technologies and equipment to secure the long term future, Powerfuel must invest in young people to take the company forward.”
Hatfield had enjoyed a busy year in 2008. In July, Powerfuel Power, part of the Powerfuel Group of Companies and an independent power generation company formed to develop a power station adjacent to Hatfield Colliery at Stainforth, South Yorkshire, announced the selection of GE Energy technology to power its planned 900 megawatt integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) power plant. Under a letter of intent signed by the two companies, GE Energy would supply gas turbines capable of burning the synthetic gas produced from gasifying the coal, which is basic hydrogen emitting water vapour that will support cleaner coal plants.
News of the proposed power plant had first broken the previous year, when Powerfuel announced it had signed a licence agreement with Shell Gas & Power International BV (a unit of the global energy giant Shell), which entitled it to use Shell's proprietary gasification technology at the coal fired power station.
Coal gasification is regarded as the cleanest method for converting coal’s energy into electricity; but it can also be converted into transportation fuels including gasoline and diesel following further processes, making it an attractive proposition for countries with abundant coal reserves but little in the way of petroleum.
One of the big challenges for the new operation was capacity, with the existing skip winding system limiting the speed (and therefore output) at which coal could be brought to the surface. However, Powerfuel announced plans to double Hatfield's saleable output through investment in a new system and larger headstock that could carry a capacity of 32 tonnes of coal at a saleable output level of approximately five million tonnes, at a cost of around £30 million.
"We are delighted to be working with Shell in our vision to be the first commercial-scale coal fired power generator with carbon capture in the world,” said Budge of the agreement. “Success in this project would be enormously significant for UK and EU energy policy as it offers the benefits of a local, inexpensive fuel, improved security of electricity supply and very low carbon emissions. This agreement maintains our leading position in the development of carbon capture from coal fired electricity generation in the UK."
With the power plant scheduled to open at the end of 2012, endorsed by the UK government and the European Union and of course, fuelled by Hatfield’s coal reserves, it is perhaps time to look again at the perception of the UK’s coal mining industry. www.powerfuel.plc.uk