The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (DOE-NETL) in Pittsburgh has awarded a $425,000 grant to the West Virginia Water Research Institute (WVWRI) to develop a model for assessing the efficiency of using abandoned mine water for power generation.

The project builds upon the research conducted by WVWRI that evaluated the availability and cost-effectiveness of using mine pool water from the Pittsburgh coal seal in northern West Virginia and Southwestern Pennsylvania as well as the potential environmental impacts resulting from mine pool flooding in the Monongahela, Pittsburgh , Irwin and Ohio geologic basins.

The model will be developed concurrently with design and construction of the 300 megawatt Beech Hollow Power Project waste coal-to-energy plant in Robinson Township , Washington County , Pa. , approximately 12 miles southwest of Pittsburgh . The plant is projected to use between 2,000-3,000 gallons per minute and consume approximately 7,000 tons of waste coal per day.

The project will help address two societal issues,said Paul Ziemkiewicz, WVWRI director.The increasing demand for power generation and its effect on freshwater resources and the potential environmental impacts that can result from mine pool breakouts such as what occurred in McDonald, Pa., in January 2005.

The objective is to provide a framework that energy developers can use to assess mine water availability, its cost, and the technical and regulatory aspects and environmental benefits of such use, he added.

In the United States , thermoelectric generation is second only to agriculture in terms of total water use. Increasing demand for adequate, reliable and economical electrical energy is placing increasing demand on freshwater resources potentially resulting in water use conflicts with other water users, Ziemkiewicz said.

He believes the framework will facilitate the use of mine water for power generation and other large industrial users thereby reducing demand on freshwater resources while abating mine discharges the primary cause of water quality impairment throughout the region.

Because of high trucking costs, the Beech Hollow plant will be located next to and utilize 37.5 million tons of low BTU bituminous coal waste from the Champion gob pile as fuel. In order to meet the projected 2,000-3,000 gallons per minute needed for process and cooling purposes, the developer believes using mine pool water will be more cost effective than piping water 15 miles from the Ohio River or using municipal supply.

Utilizing an impaired resource such as polluted mine pool water is a win-win for both the economy and environment,Dr. Ziemkiewicz said.