Inducing fractures and increasing cleat apertures in a bituminous coal under isotropic stress via application of microwave energy

Hemant Kumar, Edward Lester, Sam Kingman, Richard Bourne, Claudio Avila, Aled Jones, John Robinson, Phillip M. Halleck, Jonathan P. Mathews

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

118 Scopus citations


For the degassing of coal seams, either prior to mining or in un-minable seams to obtain coalbed methane, it is the combination of cleat frequency, aperture, connectivity, stress, and mineral occlusions that control permeability. Unfortunately, many potential coalbeds have limited permeability and are thus marginal for economic methane extraction. Enhanced coalbed methane production, with concurrent CO2 sequestration is also challenging due to limited CO2 injectivity. Microwave energy can, in the absence of confining stress, induce fractures in coal. Here, creation of new fractures and increasing existing cleat apertures via short burst, high-energy microwave energy was evaluated for an isotropically stressed and an unstressed bituminous coal core. A microwave-transparent argon gas pressurized (1000psi) polycarbonate vessel was constructed to apply isotropic stress simulating ~1800 foot depth. Cleat frequency and distribution was determined for the two cores via micro-focused X-ray computed tomography. Evaluation occurred before and after microwave exposure with and without the application of isotropic stress during exposure. Optical microscopy was performed for tomography cleat aperture calibration and also to examine lithotypes influences on fracture: initiation, propagation, frequency, and orientation. It was confirmed that new fractures are induced via high-energy microwave exposure in an unconfined bituminous core and that the aperture increased in existing cleats. Cleat/fracture volume, following microwave exposure increased from 1.8% to 16.1% of the unconfined core volume. For the first time, similar observations of fracture generation and aperture enhancement in coal were also determined for microwave exposure under isotropic stress conditions. An existing cleat aperture, determined from calibrated X-ray computed tomography increased from 0.17mm to 0.32mm. The cleat/fracture volume increased from 0.5% to 5.5%. Optical microscopy indicated that fracture initiated likely occurred in at least some cases at fusain microlithotypes. Presumably this was due to the open pore volumes and potential for bulk water presence or steam pressure buildup in these locations. For the major induced fractures, they were mostly horizontal (parallel to the bedding plane) and often contained within lithotype bands. Thus it appears likely that microwaves have the potential to enhance the communication between horizontal wellbore and existing cleat network, in coal seams at depth, for improved gas recovery or CO2 injection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)75-82
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal of Coal Geology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 1 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Fuel Technology
  • Geology
  • Economic Geology
  • Stratigraphy


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