The concept of UCG was developed in the UK in 1868, when Sir William Siemens suggested the underground gasification of waste and slack coal in a mine. Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleyev further developed Siemens' idea over the next couple of decades. The first experimental work on UCG began in 1912 but little progress was made till Stalin charged the Skochinsky Institute of Mining to run a research and development program during the 1930s, in competition with Germany who were fast developing Fischer Tropsch processing technology at the time.
The first UCG trials in 1937 in Russia failed and many top scientists were put on trial with a number being executed. By 1939 the Soviets had successfully begun operating a UCG plant in the Ukraine which was later shut down during German occupation. After the Second World War, the Soviets restarted the UCG program which eventually culminated in the operation of fourteen industrial scale UCG plants by the end of the 1960s. However, activity subsequently declined due to the discovery of extensive natural gas resources. The main projects were:
Gorlovka in the Ukraine where some early work in a steeply dipping seam tested out the advantages of using an oxygen enriched oxidant compared with air;
Lisichansk, in the Ukrainian Donbass coalfield. The coal was bituminous with 6-16% ash, and thin (0.4-1.5 m) seams down to 400m, some dipping steeply. The early trials were in the shallow part of the seam;
Yuzhno-Abinsk, in the Kuzbass coalfield. The coal was bituminous with 4-10% ash, and up to twenty-three seams 2-9 m thick, dipping steeply;
Podmoskova, in the Moscow basin. The coal was lignite, with 27-60% ash and 20-30% water. It lay horizontally in seams 2-4 m thick and 40-60 m deep;
Angren, in what is now known as Uzbekistan. The coal is lignite, with 11% ash and 30% water. Seams dip at 5-15␣ in a seam that is 4-24 m thick, and at depths of 110-250 m. The plant was restarted in 1961 and 100MW of electrical power is still generated from syngas out of the 600MW that the plant produces.
Many of the Russian projects were conducted in thin, low quality seams which contributed to the low gas quality produced. The data on the test and projects is limited but it is known that experiments into air and oxygen injection rates were made as well as heating the input air by passing it through previously gasified panels. The Lisichansk project did important design work in gasifying steeply dipping seams.