The University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa provides a model for community utilization of coalbed methane and energy independence. A feasibility study for coalbed methane development has been completed through a grant from the U. S. Department of Energy. The total resource available beneath the 760-acre (310-ha.) campus is estimated to be nearly 10 bcf. The Mary Lee Coal Group alone contains more than 3.4 mcf of gas, assuming 75% recovery.

As a result of an economic analysis, two exploration/research wells have been completed to depths of 2,289 and 2,760 ft (698 and 841 m) respectively.

The university is currently in the process of unitizing with Bryce and Partlow Hospitals. The combined acreage is approximately 2,000 acres (800 ha.). It is anticipated that coalbed methane could meet the gas demands of all three facilities for many decades. The methane will be used for space heating, domestic hot water, and for compressed natural gas (CNG) to operate the university’s vehicle fleet.

Recently the university, along with Southern Company Services, Kaneb Services, and the Gas Research Institute, has embarked on a demonstration project to evaluate the feasibility of using coalbed methane as a primary fuel source for a fuel-cell power plant. A 40-kW fuel cell will be utilized to provide both electricity and hot water for the student recreation building.

These coalbed methane utilization activities should provide planning information for communities located over coal lands to develop independent resources and provide long term energy alternatives.

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