With just one click on the computer, underground coal shearers and equipment alike are promptly plugged in, and their real-time images and data flicker across the screen, pumping the hidden “black gold” up to the planet’s surface. It is a scene at smart coal mines in north China’s coal-rich Shanxi Province, which is now experiencing a green energy revolution. The Tashan coal mine under the Jinneng Holding Group now has a 5G network to empower its intelligent patrol robots and real-time mobile video calls, both overground and underground.
The number of such smart coal mines has grown to 16 in Shanxi, which has produced over 20 billion tonnes of coal since the founding of the new China in 1949. The province is seeking a greener future with a firm promise to upgrade its energy production and supply chains as well as the relevant consumption system. “In 2021, Shanxi plans to control its coal exploitation scale within a reasonable range. Thirty coal mines are about to increase their capacity, and the output of raw coal will remain stable at about 1 billion tonnes,” said Wang Maosheng, deputy director of the provincial energy administration.
During the 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-2025), Shanxi will moderately and orderly increase the production capacity of high-quality coal mines while eliminating those suggesting exhausted resources, Wang explained.
“Coal mining itself does not emit large amounts of carbon. But gas, the mining process’s associated product, can intensify greenhouse effect 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide,” said Shi Zhongqiang, chairman of Mingshi coalbed methane company under the Huaxin Gas Group.
The gas emissions of coal mines can contribute more to global warming than the world’s shipping and aviation industries combined, said Shi. China’s first production, education, and research base in coalbed methane development engineering is also in Shanxi. This base has currently managed to eliminate gas with a concentration above 1.8 percent from coal mines. The residual gas from abandoned mines is also extracted for use.
“Carbon dioxide is not a burden, but a great asset,” said Song Weining, head of Shanxi’s clean carbon-economy industry research institute.
New materials like carbon nanotubes can be refined from the exhaust gas of the mines and turned into resources, including electrode materials for lithium batteries of new energy vehicles. To date, the province has extracted and utilized 128 million cubic meters of coalbed methane from abandoned coal mines, equivalent to reducing 1.92 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. As a significant variety of advanced materials, carbon-based new materials play an irreplaceable role in aerospace, energy, smart power grids, rail transit, and other industries.