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A. D.

Chiasson
P.E., Research Associate
Geo-Heat Center,
Oregon Institute of Technology,
Evaluation of Electricity
3201 Campus Drive,
Klamath Falls, OR 97601 Generation From Underground
C. Yavuzturk
Ph.D., C.E.M.
Coal Fires and Waste Banks
Assoc. Professor
Department of Civil & Architectural Engineering, A temperature response factors model of vertical thermal energy extraction boreholes is
University of Wyoming, presented to evaluate electricity generation from underground coal fires and waste banks.
1000 E. University Avenue, Sensitivity and life-cycle cost analyses are conducted to assess the impact of system
Dept. 3295, parameters on the production of 1 MW of electrical power using a theoretical binary-
Laramie, WY 82071 cycle power plant. Sensitivity analyses indicate that the average underground tempera-
e-mail: cyturk@uwyo.edu ture has the greatest impact on the exiting fluid temperatures from the ground followed by
fluid flow rate and ground thermal conductivity. System simulations show that a binary-
D. E. Walrath cycle power plant may be economically feasible at ground temperatures as low as
Ph.D. 190C. DOI: 10.1115/1.2718576
P.E., Professor
Department of Mechanical Engineering, Keywords: underground coal fires, energy extraction, borehole, binary-cycle power plant
University of Wyoming,
Laramie, WY 82701

Introduction coal, when combusted, releases about 31,650 MJ of energy that is


then absorbed by the surrounding rock formation, temperature in
A significant amount of combustible material is present in un-
the overburden above large coal deposits may be as high as
derground coal beds. Through mining, the combustion of coal
500 C at some locations in Northern Wyoming, temperatures as
beds becomes more likely due to the increased availability of
high as 815 C have been recorded. Under such conditions, sig-
oxygen. In abandoned underground coal mines, fires generally
nificant amounts of heat continuously transferred to the overbur-
start in partially mined coal seams that are considered uneconomi-
den create a large heat reservoir in the overburden and surround-
cal for further mining. The initial ignition of the coal bed may be ing rock.
forced through lightning, brush and forest fires, or other uncon- There are currently about 600 underground coal mine and waste
trolled sources. A spontaneous combustion is also possible due to bank fires burning at various locations in the United States. With
exothermic reactions in the coal bed. poor success in extinguishing them, most fires are left to burn
Ignition of coal deposits is dependent on many factors, such as themselves out with a predicted burning time of up to 80 years
the temperature of the heat source, extent of previous oxidation, for some locations. Fires at shallow depths to 150 m present
concentration of oxygen in contact with coal, area of exposed coal excellent opportunities for thermal energy extraction for a variety
surface, and the attitude of the deposit. Once the conditions are of industrial and residential applications, including potential elec-
conductive for ignition, the fire is fanned by oxygen that tricity production, due to relatively low cost of available drilling
reaches the point of ignition through existing shafts, cracks and technologies.
fissures in the overburden, the outcrop, and other entries. Most A review of literature yields no publications reporting on direct
underground coal bed and waste bank fires exhibit smoldering electricity production from underground coal and waste bank fires.
combustion that may involve only small amounts of coal capable However, a relatively large body of literature is available dealing
of burning with as little as 2% oxygen content in the air and may with applications of high-temperature geothermal energy and ap-
burn for extended periods of time. plications of low-temperature thermal energy storage and extrac-
There are a number of industry-accepted methods for control tion in underground rock/soil formations.
and/or extinction of underground coal and waste bank fires. Some This paper presents a concept for extracting thermal energy
common methods include excavating the burning coal, inundating from underground coal and waste bank fires. A temperature re-
the coal deposit with water, and smothering the burn area with fill sponse factors approach based on the transient, two-dimensional
material to prevent further oxygen intrusion into the coal deposit finite difference model of a matrix of vertical energy extraction
via surface cracks. However, none of the current methods of ex- boreholes is used to evaluate the concept. A sensitivity and life-
tinguishing and controlling of underground coal fires is routinely cycle cost analysis are also presented to assess the influence of
successful and they may be prohibitively expensive. primary impact parameters on the production of 1 MW of electri-
In an underground coal fire, heat transfer occurs through con- cal power considering a theoretical direct-flash and binary-cycle
vection within the mine and radiation and conduction between the power plant. The analyses are presented using data from an exist-
fire and the overburden. The overburden surface soil above the ing underground coal and waste bank fire site in Northern Wyo-
coal seam, due to its relatively low thermal conductivity, acts as ming.
an insulator that prevents the transfer of heat away from the burn
zone. Considering that one ton of medium volatile bituminous
Background
The heat extraction concept from underground coal fires pos-
Contributed by the Advanced Energy Systems Division of ASME for publication
in the JOURNAL OF ENERGY RESOURCES TECHNOLOGY. Manuscript received September
sesses many similarities to existing geothermal power plants.
9, 2004; final manuscript received July 18, 2006. Review conducted by Srinivas Geothermal power plants are of two main types, depending on the
Garimella. geothermal fluid temperature. If the heat transfer fluid exists from

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Fig. 1 Schematic diagram of a a direct-flash steam power plant and b a binary-cycle plant

the ground at temperatures exceeding about 210 C, direct-flash directly into the heated volume of the ground/overburden. A con-
power plants are typically economical 1,2. If the fluid exists at ceptual diagram of the underground energy extraction system is
temperatures in the range of about 100 C to 210 C, direct-flash shown in Fig. 2.
power plants are typically not economical and binary-cycle power A number of physical parameters were considered relevant to
plants must be used. In direct-flash plants, water is injected into the underground energy extraction system model. These were cat-
the ground and is allowed to flash into steam, which is used di- egorized as geologic parameters, thermal parameters, and system
rectly to do mechanical work on a turbine. In binary-cycle plants, parameters. The geologic parameters include soil/rock types, coal
the thermal energy of the heat transfer fluid is transferred via a seam depth and thickness, and regional extent of coal fire. The
heat exchanger to a secondary working fluid. Schematic diagrams thermal parameters are thermal conductivity of geologic materials,
of a flash-steam power plant and a binary-cycle power plant are volumetric heat capacity of geologic materials, and the under-
shown in Fig. 1. ground Earth temperatures. The heat extraction system parameters
The type of power plant obviously has an important impact on consider the number of boreholes, borehole spacing and depth,
the mathematical modeling approach. In a direct-flash plant, a heat transfer fluid properties and flow rate, and the borehole and
phase change within the borehole would need to be modeled in heat exchanger geometry.
association with large pressure changes. In a binary-cycle plant, a
A wide variety of borehole and heat exchanger geometries are
constant pressure process and no phase change within the bore-
possible. Based on the authors experience, a concentric-type steel
hole may be stipulated.
heat exchanger is likely the most appropriate type due to its rela-
Methodology tively lower thermal resistance to heat transfer between the heat
transfer fluid and the surrounding ground volume, and its capabil-
Underground Coal Fire Thermal Energy Extraction ity to tolerate relatively high fluid temperatures. A conceptual dia-
Concept. Thermal energy can be extracted from underground coal gram of a concentric Earth heat exchanger with typical dimen-
and waste bank fires using a series of vertical boreholes drilled sions is shown in Fig. 3.

Fig. 2 Conceptual diagram of the underground energy extraction system

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Fig. 4 Underground heat extraction model component con-
figuration for TRNSYS

Each component subroutine is a FORTRAN code that describes


the thermal performance of the component in the overall system.
The components are linked together to configure piping and wir-
ing connections in the overall system. Each TRNSYS component
Fig. 3 Conceptual diagram of concentric-type underground
model was formulated on the concept of inputs, parameters, and
Earth heat exchanger
outputs. Inputs are received by the model and may change with
time. Parameters are fixed in the model and do not change with
time. Outputs are calculated by the model and also change with
Mathematical Modeling. time. The configuration of the underground heat extraction model
is shown graphically in Fig. 4.
Mathematical Model. The basis of the mathematical model for
this study was the work of Yavuzturk and Spitler 3, which is an Model Implementation
extension of Eskilson 4,5. A series of dimensionless, time-
dependent temperature response factors known as g-functions Single-borehole simulations. The temperature response factors
have been developed from a transient finite difference model that model was firstly used to make calculations of exiting fluid tem-
approximates the time-dependent solution to the heat diffusion peratures from the ground and corresponding heat extraction rates.
equation in and around the heat extraction borehole. The The single-borehole simulations thus allow for the assessment and
g-functions are fixed for prescribed borehole field geometry and selection of the type of power plant direct-flash versus binary-
borehole spacing/depth ratio. The g-function allows the calcula- cycle for further system simulations and economic feasibility
tion of the temperature change at the borehole wall and ground analyses. Geological and thermal input data for the model were
interface in response to a step heat extraction pulse, which can be based on information collected from drilling at the Acme Coal
determined by summing the responses of the previous step func- Mine site 7, located in Northern Wyoming. Considering the ge-
tions ology of the site, a 61 m deep borehole was simulated with ther-
mal properties corresponding to shales and sandstones. A borehole


n
qi qi1 tn ti1 rb thermal resistance was used that corresponded to the borehole
Tborehole = T + 2k
g
ts
,
H
1 geometry of a concentric-type steel heat exchanger borehole
i=1 shown previously in Fig. 3. Average underground Earth tempera-
where t is the time s, ts is a time scale s H2 / 9, where is the tures of 120, 260, and 815 C were simulated to represent the
thermal diffusivity of the overburden ground m2 / s, rb is the widest range recorded at the site, including temperature extremes.
borehole radius m, H is the borehole depth m, k is the thermal A heat transfer fluid flow rate per unit length of borehole of 1.0
conductivity W/m K, Tborehole is the temperature at the borehole 105 m3 / s m was used with a constant inlet temperature to the
wall C, T is the average underground volume temperature, q is ground of 93 C over a 1 y simulation time. The range of selected
the step heat extraction pulse per length of bore W/m, i denotes fluid flow rate allows for continuous turbulent flow regime in the
the time step, and g is the temperature response factor boreholes for typical borehole configurations in order to ensure
g-function. The temperature of heat transfer fluid as it exits the maximum possible energy extraction from the ground. Selection
ground is then calculated iteratively considering an overall energy of the constant fluid inlet temperature to the ground is conserva-
balance on the heat transfer fluid. tive, since lower temperatures stipulate impractically large heat
extraction rates and typical temperature drops across a borehole
Computer Model. A mathematical model has been implemented do not exceed of 4 C 5 C 8.
for use in TRNSYS 6, a component-based, transient system simu- The second objective of the single-borehole simulations was to
lation environment. The purpose was to allow the underground conduct a sensitivity analysis of several key parameters on exiting
heat extraction model the versatility to be coupled to other com- fluid temperatures from the ground and heat extraction rates. A
ponent models such that larger system simulations can be con- base case was established using typical and commonly encoun-
ducted considering a complex power plant with associated tered average values for the impact parameters and each param-
equipment. eter was varied individually as shown in Table 1 for a total of 25

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Table 1 Sensitivity analyses

Parameter varied Units Base

Thermal conductivity W/m-K 1.0 1.6 2.1 3.1 4.2


Volumetric heat capacity kJ/K-m3 1340 1680 2010 2350 2680
Average underground Earth C 120 190 260 400 540
temperature
Borehole/pipe diameter mm 102/ 51 127/ 102 152/ 102 178/ 102 203/ 152
Flow rate per unit length of m3/s-m 5.2 106 7.8 106 1.0 105 1.6 105 2.1 105
borehole

simulation cases. Each case was run for a simulation time of 20 y The borehole field configuration yielding the optimum borehole
corresponding to the life-cycle time span with a constant inlet spacing as determined from the borehole field simulations de-
temperature to the ground of 93 C. scribed above was used to obtain annual quantities of thermal
energy extracted from an underground coal fire over a period of
Borehole field simulations. An actual underground thermal en- 20 y. A net present value approach was utilized to compare eco-
ergy extraction system will consist of a matrix of vertical bore- nomic scenarios at various capital costs, thermal conversion effi-
holes. In order to investigate thermal interference and optimum ciencies, ground thermal properties, and power sales rate to the
spacing between boreholes, the temperature response factors grid.
model was used to simulate a core matrix of 10 10 borehole
field. The boreholes were assumed to be equally spaced in a
square pattern, each borehole with a depth of 61 m. Inputs to the System Simulation Results and Discussion
model were those corresponding to the base case as shown in
Table 1. The borehole spacing was successively increased and the Single-Borehole Simulations. Model-calculated exiting fluid
heat extraction rate after 20 y was examined. An optimum bore- temperatures from the ground and corresponding heat extraction
hole spacing was assumed to be approached when the incremental rates are shown in Fig. 5 for three average underground Earth
heat extraction rate became negligible. temperatures 120, 260, and 815 C. Based on a review of Fig.
5a, a direct-flash power plant would not be feasible since exiting
Economic Analysis. The life-cycle economics of an under-
fluid temperatures with an average underground temperature as
ground coal fire thermal energy extraction system are dependent
high as 815 C approach only 120 C after one year of operation.
on many factors. The following key variables were considered in
As previously mentioned, direct-flash plants become economical
this study:
at fluid temperatures exceeding 210 C. Therefore, the focus of
Capital cost of the power plant attention for subsequent simulation and modeling efforts was a
Operating and maintenance costs system using a binary-cycle power plant.
Variations in drilling costs Based on heat extraction rates shown in Fig. 5b, estimates
Variations in plant thermal conversion efficiency were made of the number of equivalent boreholes required to
Variation in ground thermal properties produce 1 MW of electrical power at an average thermal conver-
Power sales rate to grid sion efficiency of 20% Fig. 6. A review of Fig. 6 shows that the
Annual discount rate number of boreholes required to produce 1 MW increases expo-

Fig. 5 Exiting fluid temperatures from the ground and heat extraction rates for a 61 m deep single borehole

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Fig. 6 Number of 61 m deep boreholes required to produce
1 MW of electrical power at 20% thermal conversion efficiency
at various average underground temperatures
Fig. 8 Heat extraction rate of a 10 10 borehole field as a func-
tion of borehole spacing
nentially as the average underground temperature decreases.
The results of the sensitivity analyses with single borehole
simulations using primary impact parameters given in Table 1 are of 1.6. Changes in exiting fluid temperature are observed to be
shown in Fig. 7. In order to quantify the influence of the various linear with changes in average underground temperature and ther-
impact parameters on the exiting fluid temperature and corre- mal conductivity. An inverse nonlinear change is observed in ex-
sponding heat extraction rate, changes in the results i.e., exiting iting fluid temperature with changing fluid flow rate. Halving the
fluid temperature and heat extraction rate normalized relative to flow rate results in an increase in exiting fluid temperature by a
the base case are plotted against changes in each parameter nor- factor of nearly 2, while increasing the flow rate by a factor of 1.5
malized relative to the parameters used in the base case. In Fig. results in a decrease in exiting fluid temperature by a factor of
7a the normalized result refers to changes in the absolute nearly 0.7. Volumetric heat capacity of the ground and the
temperature in K between the base case and other cases where borehole/pipe diameter have essentially no effect on the exiting
primary impact parameters were varied. In Fig. 7b, correspond- fluid temperatures from the ground. A review of Fig. 7b shows
ing heat extraction changes are shown. that the average underground temperature and the ground thermal
A review of Fig. 7a shows that the average underground tem- conductivity are the only parameters that affect the heat extraction
perature has the greatest impact on the exiting fluid temperatures rate from the ground. The remaining parameters volumetric heat
from the ground, followed by fluid flow rate and ground thermal capacity of the ground, the borehole/pipe diameter, and fluid flow
conductivity. Volumetric heat capacity of the ground and the rate have essentially no effect on the heat extraction rate from the
borehole/pipe diameter has essentially no effect on the existing ground. The flow rate of the heat transfer fluid only serves to
fluid temperatures from the ground. Doubling the average under- impact the temperature differential across the underground heat
ground temperature results in an increase in exiting fluid tempera- exchangers and does not impact the heat extraction rate.
ture by a factor of 2.7. Doubling the underground thermal conduc-
tivity results in an increase in exiting fluid temperature by a factor Borehole Field Simulations. Results of the borehole field

Fig. 7 Normalized results of sensitivity analyses

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Annual operating & maintenance costs: $44,000/y 1
Drilling cost range: $12.50 to $75 per ft of vertical bore,
which includes all drilling, labor, materials, and horizontal
transfer piping
Power plant thermal conversion efficiency range: 15% to
30%
Ground thermal property variations based on sensitivity
analyses:
Average underground temperature: 190 C to 400 C
Average underground thermal conductivity: 1.0 to 3.1
W/m K

Power sales rate to grid: $0.03/ kWh to $0.05/ kWh


An annual discount rate of 6%

Net present values NPVs are plotted for 20 y of operation in


Figs. 911. NPVs shown in Fig. 9 were derived using input values
described as the base case in Table 1 with a 10 10 borehole
field and borehole spacing of 75 m. NPVs shown in Fig. 10 were
derived by varying the average underground temperature from the
base value to 190 C and then to 400 C. NPVs shown in Fig. 11
were derived by varying the average underground thermal con-
ductivity from the base value to 1.0 W / m K and then to
Fig. 9 Net present value of an underground coal fire thermal
energy extraction system with binary-cycle power plant at vari- 3.1 W / m K.
ous drilling costs, various thermal conversion efficiencies n, A review of Fig. 9 shows that with an average underground
and various power selling rates to the grid temperature of 260 C and an average thermal conductivity of
2.1 W / m K, the power selling rate to the grid would need to equal
or exceed $0.04/ kWh for the system to be economically viable.
simulations are shown in Fig. 8. A review of Fig. 8 shows that At $0.04/ kWh, a positive NPV is observed at low to moderate
optimum borehole spacing is approached at 75 m. These results drilling costs i.e., $16/ ft at 15% thermal conversion efficiency
indicate that a borehole spacing of progressively less than 75 m and $32/ ft at 30% thermal conversion efficiency. At $0.05/ kWh,
would result in increasing thermal interaction between boreholes, a positive NPV is observed at much higher drilling costs i.e.,
and therefore a progressively less than optimum quantity of ther- $32/ ft at 15% thermal conversion efficiency and $68/ ft at 30%
mal energy extraction. On the contrary, borehole spacings larger thermal conversion efficiency.
than 75 m would result in less than optimum use of land. Figure 10 shows the impact of the average underground tem-
perature on the system economics. A decrease in the average un-
Economic Analysis/Life-Cycle Cost Analysis. The following
data and information have been used in the economic analysis: derground temperature from 260 C to 190 C, as one would ex-
pect, has an undesirable impact on the NPV Fig. 10a. The
Capital cost of a 1 MW binary power plant: $2.5 million impact is greater at higher drilling rates, as the drilling cost be-
1,2 comes a greater percentage of the system first cost. Power sales

Fig. 10 Effect of average underground temperature on net present value of an underground coal fire thermal energy extrac-
tion system with binary-cycle power plant at various drilling costs, various thermal conversion efficiencies n, and various
power selling rates to the grid

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Fig. 11 Effect of average underground thermal conductivity on net present value of an underground coal fire thermal energy
extraction system with binary-cycle power plant at various drilling costs, various thermal conversion efficiencies n, and
various power selling rates to the grid. Solid lines= $0.03/ kW h selling rate to the grid. Short dashes= $0.04/ kW h selling rate to
the grid. Long dashes= $0.05/ kW h selling rate to the grid.

rates of $0.04/ kWh become economically feasible only at higher The results of the analyses also indicate that thermal energy
power plant thermal conversion efficiencies, as compared to the extraction from underground coal fires and waste banks for the
base case. For economic feasibility at $0.05/ kWh sales rate to the purpose of electricity production are economically feasible using
grid, lower drilling costs must be available than in the base case; binary-cycle power plant configurations for average underground
drilling costs must be less than $18/ ft at 15% thermal conversion temperatures as low as 190 C. It should be noted, however, that
efficiency and $36/ ft at 30% thermal conversion efficiency. the economic feasibility is strongly dependent on electricity sell-
An increase in the average underground temperature from ing rates to the grid, the borehole drilling costs, the overall ther-
260 C to 400 C, as expected, has a desirable impact on the NPV mal efficiency of the binary-cycle power plant and the thermal
Fig. 10b. At $0.03/ kWh sales rate to the grid, economic fea- conductivity of the ground. In order to achieve positive net
sibility may be achieved at very low drilling rates $12.50/ ft but present values in a 20 y life-cycle cost analysis at a relatively low
relatively high thermal conversion efficiencies 30%. As com- average ground temperature of 190 C, a minimum selling rate to
pared to the base case, power sales rates of $0.04/ kWh becomes the grid of $0.04 per kW h, minimum plant efficiency of 20%,
economically feasible at relatively high drilling rates i.e., $33/ ft and a minimum ground thermal conductivity of 2.1 W / m K is
at 15% thermal conversion efficiency and $66/ ft at 30% thermal required while the drillings costs may not be more than
conversion efficiency. At power sales rates of $0.05/ kWh, the $15 per vertical ft of borehole.
system is economically viable at all drilling rates considered, ex- It is obviously desirable that the analyses presented in this pa-
cept above $60/ ft when the thermal conversion efficiency is low per be field-validated, specifically with respect to energy extrac-
i.e., 15%. tion from underground coal and waste bank fires. To that end, the
Figure 11 shows the impact of the average underground thermal following recommendations for further investigation are offered:
conductivity on the system economics. Trends are similar to those 1 A detailed, quantitative aerial thermal mapping of an actual
observed for the average underground temperature with lesser im- underground coal or waste bank fire Acme Coal Mine or
pact. other is necessary to accurately identify thermal energy
levels in the overburden. For the same site, a detailed quan-
Conclusions and Recommendations titative on-field thermal mapping may also be conducted to
The results of the analyses presented in this paper show that the supplement and validate aerial mapping, and to assess the
average underground temperature has the greatest impact on the expansion of the hot overburden volume.
exiting fluid temperatures from the ground, followed by fluid flow 2 Borehole core samples of the overburden are of interest in
rate and the thermal conductivity of the ground/overburden. There order to assess the thermal properties of the ground.
is a linear relationship between the exiting fluid temperature from 3 An experimental facility consisting of a series of
the ground and the underground temperature and thermal conduc- concentric-type boreholes is highly desirable to obtain
tivity. An inverse nonlinear relationship is observed between ex- long-term preferably 1 y data on exiting fluid tempera-
iting fluid temperature and fluid flow rate. The volumetric heat tures from the ground.
capacity of the ground and borehole/pipe geometry have only an
insignificant impact on exiting fluid temperature from the ground. Acknowledgment
Analyses also reveal that the primary impact parameters dictate
The authors would like to acknowledge the contributions and
the type of the power plant for electricity production. For the
support of the National Science Foundation, Drakon Energy, and
thermal conditions encountered at the Acme Coal Mine site in
Peter Kiewit Sons Co. on this project.
Northern Wyoming, a direct-flash plant was not possible for tem-
peratures of the fluid returning from the ground were unsuitably
low for direct-flash even at the highest average underground tem- Nomenclature
peratures. g temperature response factor g-function

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H borehole depth m Economics, Geo-Heat Center, Quarterly Bulletin, June, Oregon Institute of
Technology, Klamath Falls, OR.
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k thermal conductivity W/m K Geo-Heat Center, Quarterly Bulletin, June, Oregon Institute of Technology,
NPV Net present value $ Klamath Falls, OR.
rb borehole radius m 3 Yavuzturk, C., and Spitler, J. D., 1999, A Short Time Step Response Factor
Model for Vertical Ground Loop Heat Exchangers, ASHRAE Trans., 1052,
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ts time scale s = H2 / 9 5 Hellstrom, G., 1991, Ground Heat Storage. Thermal Analyses of Duct Stor-
age Systems, Department of Mathematical Physics, University of Lund, Swe-
T average underground volume temperature C den.
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thermal diffusivity of the overburden ground sion 15, Solar Engineering Laboratory, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
7
m2 / s Peter Kiewit Sons Co.Big Horn Coal Co./Acme No. 1 Underground Mine-
Map: a Location of Monitor holes, date: 81982, b Mine Fire Area Re-
normalized change relative to base case claimed Contours, date: 1083.
8 Kavanaugh, S. P., and Rafferty, K., 1997, Ground Source Heat Pumps-Design
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