28 June 2010

China Plans to Put Out its Coalfield Fires

um...yeah...extinguishing those fires would help...

Reposted in full from the New Scientist, 18 June 2010

'Is this, finally, the end for the gigantic coal fires that have been burning in Inner Mongolia, China, for 50 years?

The province's government announced earlier this month that it would spend 200 million yuan ($29.4 million) a year through to 2012 on extinguishing over 60 fires that burn, unchecked, at seven of its coalfields.

The fires can be ignited naturally by lightning or forest fires but more often are lit by sparks from mining equipment or burning waste. Some are at the surface, but they can also burn below ground, making them hard to spot and control. The fires are difficult to extinguish, as oxygen can seep into cracks and reignite hot coal several metres below the surface.

China has the worst underground coal fires. Each year, around 20 million tonnes of coal go up in smoke, emitting up to 100 million tonnes of greenhouse gases. As China's main coal-producing area, Inner Mongolia is home to the severest fires.

"If Inner Mongolia invests 200 million yuan, another 400 million can be expected from the central government," says Jianzhong Zhang of the German Aerospace Centre in Oberpfaffenhofen, who studies the fires. "That will be enough to put out almost all the fires in Inner Mongolia."

This is the first time that the regional government has made a concerted effort to control its fires. It plans to remove nearby coal to stop fires spreading and bury burning coal in sand and slurry. The plan's low-tech nature makes some environmentalists wonder why it didn't happen earlier.'

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