Destruction of underground methane at Beatrix Gold Mine

13 Jun 2012

Beatrix Gold Mine, a deep-level gold mine in the Free State province of South Africa, has the highest methane emission rate of any gold mine in the country. Methane is emitted from underground sources intersected during mining operations and is liberated into the general mine atmosphere. The total methane emission rate for the mine is of the order of 1 600 l/s and the South section of the mine emits approximately 1 000 l/s of methane gas. The mine has a history of gas accumulations which have led to a number of underground explosions. Following the last explosion in 2001 and the subsequent investigation, a number of recommendations were made. Two of these were to consider extracting the underground mine methane to render the mine atmosphere safe, and to declare hazardous locations that require special operating procedures. A number of such workplaces have now been declared at the South section of the mine. Methane gas is a potent, explosive greenhouse gas whose contribution to global warming and climate change is 21 times higher than that of carbon dioxide. To reduce its inherent danger and to mitigate its global warming impact, a carbon credit project under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the Kyoto Protocol has been developed and implemented, the aim being to capture and destroy the methane at Beatrix mine. The mine has constructed an extraction system to capture and extract 400 l/s of the methane. Percentage methane (per volume) of the gas intersected at source is 85%, with negligible concentrations of other hydrocarbons and water associated. The mine contracted the services of Group Five to design and construct the flare and ancillary equipment on surface, and Promethium Carbon was contracted to assist with the carbonrelated aspects, approval framework, and administration of the project. A number of design and construction challenges had to be faced to extract and transport the gas effectively to the surface of the mine as the emitters are approximately 3 600 m away from the mine shaft at a depth of 860 m. Further considerations were the requirements for the type of column to be used to transport the methane gas, the pressure loss over the system, the safety systems needed to address the risk factors involved in the transport of the methane gas, and a suitable pumping system to extract the gas to the surface. The system operates under negative pressure provided by two blowers on surface delivering the emissions to a flare capable of burning off 450 l/s of methane gas. In this paper a number of benefits for the mine are discussed. These include, but are not limited to, the removal of approximately 55% of the total volume of methane gas from the general body of the air in the geographical areas of the mine where the methane gas is emitted into the atmosphere, and reducing the risk of methane-related incidents. A further benefit of this project is the mitigation of the global warming impact of the methane gas and the reduction of the mine’s carbon footprint by approximately 25%. This project could also assist in alleviating the energy shortage being experienced in South Africa by means of the planned generation of 4 MW of electrical power, utilizing the methane gas, as a second phase of the project.