Cleaning Methane Released from the Coal Mining Process

Using regenerative thermal oxidizers to convert methane into carbon dioxide may prove a deterrent to Global Warming.

Everybody’s talking about clean coal. Vanishing are the images of smog-filled towns and blackened valleys of soot that made coal a byword for dirty fuel. In fact, like it or not, coal still produces about half of U.S.-produced electricity and about a quarter of the electricity produced worldwide. Why not stick with a fuel that works, and cut down significantly on its polluting qualities at the same time?

Is this Polyannish reasoning? Some environmentalists insist that even the term “clean coal” is little more than a marketing slogan.

But what if coal could be made relatively clean? The idea of carbon capture and storage could well be the solution to minimizing the deleterious effects of coal-based pollution. While the technologies for “cleaning” hazardous byproducts such as methane released during the coal mining process are still being developed, and precise efficiencies remain at issue, to convert the poisonous methane (a chemical twenty-four times as conducive to Global Warming as is the oft-maligned carbon dioxide) into a less dangerous substance such as carbon dioxide as opposed to releasing the potent and poisonous methane directly into the atmosphere may just be possible – and feasible.

Using regenerative or recuperative thermal oxidizers (RTOs) as a heat-dispersing distilling agent, the conversion process can take place at least somewhat efficiently. After the methane is converted into carbon dioxide, it can be more safely transported away, while the general atmospheric warming is significantly diminished. In fact, RTOs can even be used to diminish carbon dioxide, if the process is allowed to continue. If this latter step can be accomplished on a consistent basis, the idea of “clean coal” becomes not only possible, but inevitable. RTOs are given little coverage in the U.S. media, however, by politicians of any stripe. Is the idea of “clean coal” too difficult for the average “man on the street” or non-science grounded journalist to grasp? Perhaps. But “clean coal” may yet become a reality in ways never divined by the ancients of the industrial age – or by the likes of Albert Gore or Barack Obama or John McCain.

Derek Lang is with Epcon Industrial, a manufacturer of air pollution control systems, thermal oxidizers, and industrial gas fired ovens. To learn more about thermal oxidizers, catalytic oxidizers, air pollution control systems, industrial ovens at

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