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A mass of gas

June 5, 2015

Trillions of cubic meters of natural gas have been identified in coal deposits deep in southern China’s Qinshui Basin. Atlas Copco’s equipment is helping extract the resource in a way that limits environmental impact.

Self-contained, adaptable and powerful, the truck-mounted drill is built to be productive and efficient.

No country on Earth produces or consumes as much coal as China. The Asian giant relies on coal for roughly 70% of its energy needs. Over the next decade, China is expected to build as many as 50 new coal-fired power plants to meet its huge energy needs.

The downside is that coal is the dirtiest of fossil fuels. Its use accounts for the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions produced in China. That’s why the country is eager to develop and use emission-cutting methods like the use of captured coal bed methane (CBM) to produce energy – and why the results of one company’s use of cutting-edge extraction methods is turning heads in China’s biggest coal producing region.

Located in the Shanxi province in southern China, the Qinshui basin is rich in both coal and methane gas, which is a natural by-product of coal mining. The coal bed is located at moderate depth and has high gas content.

For years, companies that extract, collect and transport methane gas in the area have relied on traditional and locally made mast-type water well drilling rigs. But the game changed in 2008 when the Qinshui Lanyan Coalbed Methane Company acquired a complete set of the latest “down-the-hole” air drilling equipment from one of the world’s leading providers of industrial productivity solutions.

“The main challenge the customer faced was the need for a total solution on CBM drilling – not just a single compressor or a booster or a rig or a hammer.”

John Shen, Atlas Copco’s product manager for the Portable Energy division in China

In addition to an Atlas Copco truck-mounted drill, Qinshui Lanyan bought a matched Atlas Copco portable air compressor. The new equipment enables the company to drill 400- to 500-meter-deep (1 300-1 600-foot-deep) wells in only five or six days, a third of the time it takes traditional rigs. That translates into a 300% increase in drilling speed and a two-thirds reduction in labor costs. The air drilling system also significantly reduces the environmental impact of mining. That may explain why Qinshui Lanyan, a local subsidiary of the national Jincheng Coal Mine Group, purchased a second Atlas Copco truck-mounted drill and portable air compressor. It also ordered a 70-bar Hurricane booster for use in coal mines that are 700-800 meters (2 300- 2 600 feet) deep or in situations where high volumes of gushing underground water are involved.

For the customer, the change has meant increased profitability while helping to develop a premium clean energy that reduces harmful emissions and is used to produce everything from electricity and fuel for cars, houses and industry to ammonia, formaldehyde and methanol. It’s another example of the company’s ability to meet the needs of its industrial partners. “We are committed to our customers,” says Shen. “They are the most important thing and we must listen carefully to them.”

“The use of down-the-hole air drilling technology also made sense from both an ecological and human standpoint because the 70% increase in speed and efficiency.”

John Shen, Atlas Copco’s product manager for Portable Air Division in China

Written by Mark Cardwell

China Compressors Society and environment Asia Air drilling systems Environment Mining Portable air compressors