Future Coal

Sept 4th: With Adam Lloyd, Shift Manager at Thoresby Colliery

Sept 4th: With Adam Lloyd, Shift Manager at Thoresby Colliery

On Friday Sept 4th I found myself at the Thoresby coal mine at Edwinstowe, north Nottinghamshire — and 2000 feet below ground.  I was a guest of Colliery Manager Stuart Hoult (who also took the photographs).
 
Thoresby is approaching the end of the current workings, but I went to see their new development in the “Deep Soft” seam.  They’re investing £55 million in the new seam, and that should see Thoresby in business for the next ten years.
 
They’re driving a new “roadway” into the new seam, using a tunnelling machine not much smaller than a railway locomotive, and weighing 100 tons.  They can move forward well over 100 metres a week through the coal seam.  As it progresses, they drive two-metre and longer bolts into holes drilled into the surrounding rock.  The bolts, secured by resin, stabilise the strata, and the walls and ceilings, obviating the need for metal arch structures and lining.  And the drills which make the bolt-holes, and drive the bolts home, are integral to the tunnelling machine.
 
Conditions at the face were very hot, and dark, and cramped, and I have huge admiration for people who can cope with working there day after day — people like Shift Manager Adam Lloyd.  He asked what Europe was doing for him — not much, I’m afraid, was my answer.  One of his colleagues was surprised at a Conservative politician taking a positive view of coal, after Margaret Thatcher’s battles with the miners, nearly thirty years ago.  But that was then, this is now.
 
On the way back to the shaft and the lift, I had the most extraordinary experience.  I rode for perhaps a quarter of a mile on the coal conveyor (see photo), face down on the coal.  I’m astonished it was allowed in these days of paranoid Elf’n’Safety, but apparently it is.  Probably we were going quite slowly, but in that horizontal position, the only light from my helmet lamp, it seemed very fast indeed.  And as the flexible conveyor belt rolled over the rollers, the coal ahead of me writhed like a snake, while the rollers under me delivered a none-too-gentle body massage.  I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
 
So why am I excited about coal?  There is a growing awareness that Britain faces an energy crunch in a few years’ time, as EU rules force the closure of older coal-fired power stations, and most of our nuclear plants reach the end of their design life.  The government expects to fill much of the gap with wind, which they plan should deliver up to 35% of our electricity by 2020.  This is cloud cuckoo land.  5% maybe, but no serious energy analyst sees 35% as realistic.  Renewable energy has its place for those technologies that can be justified in economic and environmental terms (which excludes wind), but they will only deliver at the margin.  I believe that future British energy security must stand on two strong legs — home-grown coal and nuclear energy.
 
Both these industries need to be able to take a confident view of the future, to ensure both investment and the continuity of the skills base.  I’m not asking for subsidies, but I am asking for a positive and constructive national energy policy framework to enable the coal and the nuclear industries to plan for the future with confidence.  Meantime, I wish the best of luck to Thoresby and its new Deep Soft Seam.

Sept 4th: Riding the coal conveyor belt at Thoresby

Sept 4th: Riding the coal conveyor belt at Thoresby

 

Photo credit: Colliery Manager Stuart Hoult

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2 Responses to Future Coal

  1. The opinion is absolutely correct. This worldwide madness for running after energy systems those are of very low flux and marginally viable will go in the years to come. After making heavy losses people and governments would realize that the actual solutions lies in conventional time tested systems. Here clean coal and nuclear plants would play a significant role. However considering the engineering progress other two areas viz. space based solar power plant and fusion reactors are quite distant. For a glimpse into the world of future energy please read my science fiction novel MEGALOPOLIS ONE 2080 A.D. The website is http://www.eloquentbooks.com/MegalopolisOne2080AD.html

  2. Richard J says:

    I can empathise completely with your excitement. I was fortunate enough to experience a similar deep working coal mine in the 60’s while a geology student and never forgotten it. The drop in the cage down the shaft, imagining the pithead wheel spinning, but not as fast as when it just dropped the empty trucks back down, bouncing up and down on cable stretch when it reached the ‘Main Road’. The trip on the coal transporter with only your helmet light and the sudden inclines over the faults, the long march down the hooped road to the work face with its coal cutter, the heaving, cracking floor and groaning roof where it was allowed to fall behind you, the sweating heat, the constant pumped ventilation wind and the darkness, and the communal wash room when you eventually surface and hand back your helmet light and battery.

    Not sure how much faith to put in those new resined bolts, feel safer with steel, hydraulic or even old pine props, but then I’m too much an old sceptic these days. But I now know that at 2000 feet pressure is up to nearly half a ton a square inch. And to bring it home, this is what can happen at Thoresby:

    http://www.aditnow.co.uk/photo/Thoresby-Colliery-Coal-Mine-User-Album-Image-010/

    Good luck to them for the future.

    Incidentally that webref is very interesting, I particularly liked the following blog page with the quote from Aneurin Bevan; surely worth an MEP keeping up his sleeve for use as appropriate:

    http://www.aditnow.co.uk/community/viewtopic.aspx?t=1952

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