Digital Coal: a tool of reconstructing real coal structures

Yu Jing’s innovative ‘Digital Coal’ research aims to reconstruct complex coal structures on multiple scales, which can help optimise coal seam gas development strategies.

Dr Yu JingDr Yu Jing came to Australia to start her studies at UNSW in 2012 and has since completed her Masters degree and PhD in Petroleum Engineering. Today she is a Scientia Fellow in the School of Minerals and Energy Resources Engineering with funding for four years to research how natural fractures in reservoirs play a key role in controlling underground fluid flow.

Her research is primarily concerned with characterising the subsurface fracture system to better predict oil and gas production and groundwater movement.

“Most recently, I have proposed a comprehensive framework for characterising naturally-fractured coal. The framework takes the geostatistical data from micro-CT images of coal, and applies it to reconstruct a 3D coal fracture network model,” she says.

Most recently, I have proposed a comprehensive framework for characterising naturally-fractured coal. The framework takes the geostatistical data from micro-CT images of coal, and applies it to reconstruct a 3D coal fracture network model.

Dr Yu Jing, Scientia Fellow, UNSW Minerals and Energy Resources Engineering

“I call this representative digital model, ‘Digital Coal’, and it can preserve the significant features of real coal samples on multiple scales.”

The overall aim of Jing’s research is to better understand and characterise the coal fracture system, so that the subsurface flow of underground fluids such as methane and groundwater, can be simulated and predicted more accurately. She says this is important because in comparison to more traditional energy sources, coal seam gas, as an unconventional natural gas, is a cleaner energy with very little pollution.

“While in the past, this gas was ventilated out of coal mines for safety reasons, there are many concerns that, as a powerful greenhouse gas, methane accelerates environmental issues such as climate change,” she explains.

“Capturing and commercialising coal seam gas as a power source can not only benefit our environment, but also address some of the key energy issues in Australia.”

According to Jing, a detailed understanding of the fundamental properties of coal is needed in order to efficiently recover this energy. This is where her research on coal fracture networks fits into the bigger picture.

“My research can be used to predict coal seam gas production and enable industry to create new technologies for optimising coal seam gas development strategies,” she continues.

Jing says she is also hoping her research will be useful in addressing one of the biggest related environmental issues as well: being able to better understand, and then mitigate, how coal seam gas activities impacts on groundwater.

“Because my work is to characterise underground fracture coal seams, it will also be useful for environmental agencies to monitor the adjacent groundwater systems,” she says.

Written by: Penny Jones

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