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Sunday, 17 December, 2000, 22:30 GMT
Methane hopes for closed mines
The methane will be sold to generate electricity
By the BBC's Susanna Reid

Hundreds of abandoned coal mines across the UK could be brought back into use to extract methane gas that can be burnt to make electricity.

Methane was once the scourge of the mining industry. Not only is it toxic and potentially explosive, but it is far more efficient than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere.

Some scientists believe that the man-made sources of these two gases are changing the climate.

Alkane Energy PLC claim burning methane to generate electricity, rather than just letting it seep into the atmosphere, will have a less damaging impact on the environment.

The company, which employs former mine workers, recently floated on the stock exchange. It hopes to expand from three operations in the East Midlands to set up hundreds of projects around the country.

Renewable energy

The company's technical director, David Oldham, said the project was commercial but with an environmental spin-off.

"We extract methane, which was the biggest hazard in the mining industry, and turn it into something useful.

"Our aim is to make money, but we're lobbying the government to have it viewed as a green and renewable source of energy."

There are more than 900 abandoned coal mines in the UK. Alkane was one of the first companies in Britain to extract methane from mines to generate power and other companies are now following suit.

Supporters believe that preventing methane seeping into the atmosphere could help the government achieve its target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

'It's very nostalgic'

"It's bound to have a positive effect," said Derbyshire County Council's environment officer Alan Wilkinson. "As methane is more damaging than CO2, anything that takes it out of the atmosphere must help."

Local Bolsover councillor Brian Murray-Carr used to work at Shirebrook Colliery, where Alkane are already extracting enough gas to convert to electricity to power 10,000 homes.

"It's very nostalgic. I worked here, as did my father," he said. "When the mine closed there was a strong sense of depression but this operation looks likely to spark regeneration in the area."

At its peak, Shirebrook Colliery in Derbyshire produced more than two million tonnes of coal a year and employed 2,000 miners.

Alkane Energy only employs a handful of staff, but hopes its re-use of the mine will go some way to breathing new life back into the old mining community.

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