RFCS workshop, European Parliament, 23 May 2023

workshop agenda

This workshop, kindly hosted by MEP Ondřej Knotek in the European Parliament was organised by EURACOAL to promote the EU Research Fund for Coal and Steel (RFCS). Given the interest of MEPs in the proposed Methane Regulation (COM/2021/805), projects to manage coal mine methane were presented by experts in this field from industry and academia. The European Commission was represented in person by Jane Amilhat, Head of Unit – Low Emission Future Industries at the Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, and Sebastiano Fumero, Head of Unit responsible for implementing the RFCS research programme. Participants were also honoured to be joined by MEP Ondřej Kovařík and MEP Martina Dlabajová.

Following the resignation of European Commissioner Mariya Gabriel to become Prime Minister of Bulgaria, it was Marc Lemaître who addressed participants with a well-crafted video message. He was appointed Director-General for Research and Innovation in February 2023 and was already well known to MEPs as Director-General for Regional and Urban Policy. Having overseen the European Regional Development Fund and Cohesion Fund, as well as the Just Transition Fund of importance to the coal regions, he was keen to see research funds used in support of a just transition that left no one behind.

Beginning with the EU’s high-level policy objectives of climate neutrality by 2050 and a 55% reduction in GHG emissions by 2030, the Director-General turned to how coal and steel could fit in a digital, green and circular transformation. Following the modernisation of the RFCS legal basis in 2021, he said the fund could now make a substantial impact by supporting an adequate level of investment. He was happy to report that project selection was now fully aligned with the European Green Deal, creating new activities at coal sites and addressing past environmental damages. With the largest-ever budget for coal projects in 2023 – around €44 million – Mr. Lemaître reflected on the low number of proposals received, albeit with some very ambitious “big-ticket” proposals. He called on industry to do better and promised upcoming calls would have a wider scope to attract more participants into new areas of activity that benefit coal stakeholders. With that in mind, he hoped for an insightful and through-provoking event.

MEP Ondřej Knotek with Dr. Sebastiano Fumero (left), Head of Unit, European Research Executive Agency and Dr. Tomasz Rogala (right), President of EURACOAL

EURACOAL President Tomasz Rogala thanked MEP Knotek for hosting and the European Commission for its efforts to modernise the RFCS research programme. He welcomed the larger budget and especially the support offered under big-ticket calls which will help coal regions through the energy transition. Dr. Rogala, who is Chairman of the Board at the Polish Mining Group (PGG – Polska Grupa Górnicza), explained the plans for transition in his country which is dependent on coal for 70% of electricity generation:

  • A social agreement with the trade unions to phase out coal mining by 2049.
  • Plans to roll out zero-emission energy: renewables and nuclear power.
  • Management of coal mine methane at operating mines and after mine closure (abandoned mine methane).
  • Mine waste management: greater use of rock waste and ecological restoration of spoil tips.
  • Revitalising post-mining areas: PGG will be responsible for dismantling mines while retaining valuable infrastructure (e.g. roads, railways and utilities) to prepare sites for new investment.

At PGG alone, he said, the last point would require a €40 billion investment to create new jobs that build on existing supply chains in Poland.

As PGG’s coal production declines from a projected 23 million tonnes in 2024, so will methane emissions from around 200 thousand tonnes, Dr. Rogala observed before turning to the company’s current methane management. Roughly two thirds of the methane released underground during mining is removed in ventilation air to keep workers safe. Of the one third captured, around half is used to generate heat and power while the rest is safely flared. Dr. Rogala was pleased to report that the company plans to increase the capture rate to 48% and build nine new heat and power plants by 2027 when the total installed power generation capacity will reach 50 MWe with additional heat output of 50 TWth.

Dr. Rogala then shared interesting details of several recent RFCS research projects and proposals, including:

  • DD-MET on directional drilling for more effective and economic methane drainage
  • RFCS big-ticket proposal on post-mining waste disposal in soil-forming materials and fertiliser products
  • MINRESCUE on the physical and chemical characterisation of coal mine wastes to enable their recycling and use in construction
  • ROCCS pilot project on carbon dioxide (CO2) storage in European coal seams
  • REECOL on the ecological rehabilitation and long-term monitoring of post mining areas

During his presentation, Dr. Rogala emphasised the enormous challenges of capturing methane from ventilation air – a challenge that two projects in China and Australia had set out to address, but without an economic solution. So, he focused on what could be achieved with the more realistic projects presented at the workshop, such as the REM project presented by Mr. Artur Badylak, Director – Demethanisation and Energy Management Office at Jastrzębska Spółka Węglowa (JSW) – Europe’s largest coking coal producer.

REM is a big-ticket RFCS project on the reduction of methane emissions from post-mining goafs at the Pniówek coal mine in Poland. The aim is to minimise methane inflows into ventilation air with intelligent monitoring and management of methane from the inaccessible areas of underground mines following coal extraction. This project is also of critical importance to minimise the costs of mine closure plans, but Mr. Badylak highlighted the work needed to design and build systems, including combined heat and power (CHP) plants, that can operate safely and efficiently with a low concentration of methane in captured gas (c.20-40%).

Meanwhile, Dr. Jacek Skiba, REM Project Coordinator at the Central Mining Institute (GIG – Główny Instytut Górnictwa), spoke on the R&D that is still need to reduce ventilation air methane (VAM) emissions. While there are technologies to capture VAM and use it or destroy it, he said that these are not widely used and face many challenges, as reported by the UNECE and the US EPA: massive volumes of air, very low methane concentration (c.0.5%), dust and humidity (>90%). For these reasons, Dr. Skiba said research work in the EU was focused on ways to reduce methane at source, before it enters ventilation air. Even so, he presented the RFCS-supported ProVAM project which was addressing the VAM challenges.

(L-R) Prof. Alicja Krzemień, Prof. Stanisław Prusek, Dr. Sebastiano Fumero, MEP Ondřej Knotek and Dr. Tomasz Rogala at the European Parliament, Brussels, 23 May 2023

The second part of the workshop was led by Prof. Alicja Krzemień, Chair of the EURACOAL Technical Research Committee and Head of the Laboratory for Risk Assessment and Industrial Safety at GIG. She began with two RFCS-funded projects concerned with a just transition: POTENTIALS and GreenJOBS which show how accompanying measures and research projects can support green business development models for the coal regions – especially in the energy sector. She explained how a roadmap for the Silesian Voivodeship had been prepared with a timeline for investments in, for example, geothermal, hydrogen and in the longer term nuclear power, using the widely adopted MoSCoW technique to prioritise projects that Must, Should, Could or Won’t be implemented.

POTENTIALS: Examines the unique aspects of end-of-life coal mine and coal-fired power plant sites, along with nearby, related industries, to take advantage of their combined potential to stimulate new economic activities and so develop jobs and economic value in the coal regions in transition. The project’s recommendations and proposals are in line with EU policy and relevant to the Just Transition Fund.
GreenJOBS: Focuses on the repurposing of end-of-life underground coal mines by deploying emerging renewable energy and circular economy technologies to promote sustainable local economic growth and maximise the number of green, quality jobs.

Prof. Krzemień introduced a series of short presentation on lessons learned from the two projects, firstly on regional transition under the EU-funded Territorial Just Transition Plans in the different coal regions of Spain, Greece and Germany, followed by feedback from industry on such plans in Slovenia, Spain, Germany, the Czech Republic and Poland.

Prof. Pedro Riesgo Fernandez, University of Oviedo (UNIOVI), Spain – The Case of Asturias
Dr. Nikolaos Koukouzas, Centre for Research and Technology Hellas (CERTH), Greece – Social Impact Assessment

As part of the POTENTIALS project, Dr. Stefan Möllerherm explained that he and his team at the Technische Hochschule Georg Agricola (THGA) developed a cocktail of techniques for territorial impact assessment. They applied the Territorial Efficiency, Quality, and Identity Layer Assessment (TEQUILA) approach to two business models: an eco-industrial park with hydrogen production and another with biofuel production. Dr. Möllerherm concluded that a park with green hydrogen promised better territorial cohesion in terms of economic competitiveness, environmental sustainability and societal benefits.

Mag. Matjaz Kamenik, Project Manager, Premogovnik Velenje, d.o.o. (Coal Mine Velenje), Slovenia
Dipl.-Ing. Sven Göhring, Advisor – Environment and Maintenance, VGB Energy e.V. (vgbe), Germany
Dr. Noel Canto Toimil, Head of Innovation Department, Hulleras del Norte, S.A. (HUNOSA), Spain
Dr. Jiří Štěrba, Deputy Director of the Department of Strategy and Development, SUAS Group, Czech Republic

In his closing remarks on behalf of EURACOAL, Prof. Stanisław Prusek, Director of the Central Mining Institute (GIG) spoke positively about the role research can play in transforming the coal regions. He pointed to the EU policy aim of a just or fair transition that “leaves no one behind”. This, he said, meant that thousands of new jobs would have to be created in the coal mining regions – a challenge that was well covered in presentations during the workshop, but a task that had only just begun in many member states. He compared Silesia today with Ruhrgebiet of the 1960s, observing that it had taken the best part of sixty years for Germany to bring its deep coal mining to an end. Such a transformation would also take time in Poland, Prof. Prusek concluded. Meanwhile, he thanked MEP Knotek for his support and also the European Commission who he was pleased to see so well represented.

From the European Research Executive Agency (REA), Dr. Sebastiano Fumero, Head of Unit – Future Low Emission Industries, explained the new RFCS objectives and calls worth €111 million each year which can support transition projects in the coal regions as part of the European Green Deal. Following a change to the RFCS legal basis in 2021, he said the research programme’s objectives for coal now fall under three main headings:

  • supporting the just transition of the coal sector and regions,
  • improving health and safety, and
  • minimising the environmental impacts of coal mines in transition.

Dr. Fumero introduced staff from REA who were managing and supporting the growing number of RFCS projects linked to coal industry transition. Looking ahead, he reiterated the need for more, high-quality proposals from industry – proposals that can make a substantive impact in line with EU policies. Given the now much larger funding available, he was optimistic about the RFCS’s role in a just transition.

Funded by the European Union