A renaissance in British coal is in plan

At the beginning of December a British coal mine produced its three millionth tonne of the year, putting it on target to record the highest annual output for any coal mine in the history of coal mining in Britain. Mineworkers at Daw Mill mine between Tamworth and Nuneaton, West Midlands, hit the milestone as day and afternoon shifts were changing at the 680-man colliery. All 3 Mt – sufficient to meet the annual power needs of the 2.27 million homes in Birmingham and the East Midlands – has been produced from one coal face.

At that stage, with 25 production days remaining before the end of the month, Daw Mill was on target to produce around 3.25 Mt for the year and better the 13-year-old record of 3.16 Mt set by Selby’s Wistow mine which had several production faces and a bigger manpower.

UK COAL Chief Executive Jon Lloyd said: “This is a remarkable achievement and shows our mining skills are world class.” Colliery Manager Glenn Robinson added: “Today marks an important milestone for Daw Mill – but we have the highest ever output for a mine in Britain in our sights and the lads are confident they can do it.”

This is the third record of the year for Daw Mill, where the previous highest annual output was the 2.95 Mt produced in 2004. Daw Mill had produced its 1Mt of the year in a record 108 days, and 2 Mt in a record 214 days.

Most of the output goes by rail to E.ON’s Ratcliffe power station near Nottingham, although the colliery has also this year supplied EDF’s Cottam power station, near Retford and Drax near Selby, Yorkshire as well as the industrial and domestic markets. The colliery, which this year has taken on more than 35 additional miners and apprentices, produces coal from a 5 m thick section of the Warwickshire Thick seam. Each cut from the 300 m long face produces around 2,000 t, with the completion of over 1,500 cuts covering a distance of just under 500 km to extract the 3 Mt. Daw Mill is the most productive and technologically advanced single coal mining unit in Europe.

UK COAL is currently investing over £100m in projects which will extend the production capacity of Thoresby Colliery, Notts and Kellingley Colliery, West Yorkshire, by around a decade. It is also reviewing options to extend workings at Daw Mill into a new block containing well over 40 Mt of reserves, with a similar tonnage accessible if Harworth Colliery, North Notts, reopens.

Coal is used to generate more than a third of Britain’s electricity but around 60% of that used for power generation is imported from Russia, South Africa, Colombia and other countries…costing British-based power generators more than £2 billion a year.

Britain’s biggest producer of coal, UK COAL operates four deep mines in the Midlands and Yorkshire, and surface mines in the North East, the North West, Yorkshire and the Midlands. Over 90% of the annual output of 8 Mt is sold to generate around 6% of Britain’s electricity requirements. Its power business, Harworth Power, includes the generation of electricity using engines to burn methane extracted from collieries for safety reasons, and the development of wind farms in a joint collaboration agreement with Peel Energy.

Daw Mill is a natural extension of the Kingsbury and Dexter collieries which worked the coal in the northern end of the Warwickshire coalfield. The Kingsbury mine first produced coal in the early 1900s and in 1927, the Dexter shaft was sunk. By 1955, the underground working at Dexter extended over 11 km and it was decided to sink a new shaft at Daw Mill. Work commenced in 1956 and was completed three years later, with Daw Mill linked to Dexter in 1960. A second shaft was sunk between 1969-71 and in 1983, a drift (an inclined tunnel) linking underground workings with the surface was completed, enabling Daw Mill to increase production capacity by removing the bottleneck of winding coal up the shafts.

Writing in the latest edition of AMC Consultants newsletter, Digging Deeper, Alyn Evans, Principal Mining Engineer, explains that the UK is an island of coal. “By 1976 over 25,000 Mt had been recovered from the huge reserves of the country. In situ reserves, counting seams over 0.6 m in thickness and at depths up to 1,200 m have been calculated at 190,000 Mt. Recoverable reserves are estimated to be 45,000 Mt, which will satisfy the annual needs for power generation for the country for hundreds of years.

“Presently the existing mines produce about 20 Mt annually, which is about a third of the 60 Mt needed annually to satisfy power consumption demands. The 40 Mt shortfall is currently being met by imports from various parts of the world including Russia, Eastern Europe, Columbia, South Africa and others.

“The rapid rise in world coal prices, in 2007 alone prices doubled, has brought about a spate of activity in the UK coal industry, especially since there is a ready made home market for the product with consumers desperate to reduce their dependency on imports. 

“Richard Budge, the ex head of UK Coal, recently announced that his company, Powerfuel (which is 51% owned thanks to an investment by Kuzbassrazugol, one of the largest Russian coal producers) will restart production at Harworth colliery, another ex British Coal mine. The total investment at the mine will be around £110 million.

Hatfield Miners with Richard Budge (photo courtesy of AMC Consultants)

“The company has obtained consent for the development of a 900 MW clean coal power plant, and has signed a license agreement with Shell Gas and Power International, which entitles it to use Shell’s proprietary gasification technology in the proposed power station at Hatfield. It is also planned to capture carbon dioxide emissions for sale to North Sea oil companies, whose rigs use the gas to push out oil.”

“A new zero emissions power station is our intention,” Budge says. Coal is becoming more attractive as an energy source because of the soaring price of gas and oil and worries over security of their supply.

“In South Wales,” Evans continues, “where there was once a huge coal industry with hundreds of mines and which contains the rich and much sought after anthracite, there are also stirrings of a revival in coal mining with the reopening of two anthracite mines, with one of the companies involved already announcing its intention to re-open another four anthracite mines in the area. Here, the biggest problem seems to be the lack of skilled miners left to man these operations, since most of the former miners are now in retirement and no new miners have been trained for more than a generation.

“Scotland, too, is experiencing something of a revival with Scottish Coal, which already has seven operating sites producing some 4.5 Mt of coal and actively seeking permission for other sites.

“ATH Resources, which currently produces 2 Mt annually from four sites, is also seeking permission to start coal production from new sites in the area. In May 2006 ATH acquired a successful coal recovery, land remediation and regeneration business with a particular focus on colliery spoil heap reclamation projects. ATH paid net £9.5 million for the business. The acquisition, recently renamed ATH Regeneration allows ATH to build on its skills as a regenerator of land, whilst developing strong relationships with key English planning authorities. This arm of the group is also poised to start its first overseas operation in Australia.

“In October 2006, following a successful planning application, the Group commenced work on its new Laigh Glenmuir opencast coal mine in East Ayrshire.

“In addition to its operating mines, the Group also has a number of other coal mining projects in Scotland and two through its French subsidiary, SRMMC including a series of six existing coal concessions in south-central France, covering an area of 36 km, two with an estimated resource of approximately 4.5 Mt of recoverable coal.