A Strategic Resource
Peat has always played a noticeable role in the power engineering industry and the whole economy of Belarus
The fuel that used to dominate the energy consumption mix, gradually gave way to easy-to-use liquid and gas fuels. However, today this fuel is in the focus again. According to the recently developed Energy Security Concept, peat and other local fuels are among the main factors contributing to higher reliability and efficiency of the country’s energy system and the entire economy.
Peat: Yesterday, Today…
Today there are about 9,000 peat deposits in Belarus with the total area of 2.4 million hectares and 4 billion tonnes of peat. Belarus boasts the 2nd largest peat deposits in the CIS and 10th in the world. This is virtually the only significant energy resource of Belarus. The commercial development of peat deposits started in the 19th century and peat briquette production was launched over 60 years ago.
Over 200 peat companies were set up on the back of electrification and industrialization in the 1930s. They introduced milling, excavation and hydraulic production techniques. The average share of peat in the fuel consumption mix of Belarus rose from 26% in 1932 to 63.5% in 1940. By the way, peat was used to operate the first state district power plant in Belarus. After the war, peat played an important role in the economic recovery of the country as it was the primary energy source.
In the 1950s-1960s the biggest peat mining companies were built in all oblasts of Belarus. They served as baselines for big energy facilities. About 15 million tonnes of peat was extracted, which gave Belarus its nickname “peat Donbass”. By the way the technologies of peat extraction and burning developed in Belarus have been adopted by many foreign countries and are still in use. However, since the 1970s the use of this local fuel has been declining: 9.2 million
tonnes were extracted in 1970, some 3.4 million tonnes in 1990, 1.8 million tonnes in 2003. Now the extraction volumes stabilized at 2.5 million tonnes a year.
In the time when Belarus was part of the USSR, peat was substituted by natural gas that was piped from Siberia, which was quite logical in conditions of one united country. Nowadays natural gas is an imported commodity and Belarus has to revert to using its own fuels.
Today peat briquettes in Belarus are mainly used in schools and hospitals and small boiler houses. The main consumers of peat are rural residents. It is also used to make a number of agricultural products. As for its industrial use, boilers running on peat or mixed peat-wood fuel are installed when building new power generating facilities. Thus, peat is used at Zhodino CHP, Pruzhany mini-CHP, Bobruisk CHP1, Belarusian State District Power Plant, Baran mini-CHP, which are part of the Belarusian state electrical company Belenergo, municipal boiler houses of the towns of Braslav, Oshmyany, Tolochin, and many others.
Peat accounts for about 2% to 3% of the total fuel consumption mix of Belarus and for 15% of the local fuels used in Belarus. It helps save about 800 million cubic meters of natural gas worth $150 million. If converted to tonnes of fuel equivalent, milled peat is 4.5 times cheaper than natural gas while peat briquettes are more than 2.5 times cheaper.
By the way, wealthy European countries use peat quite often. Thus, it accounts for 5% to 7% of the fuel consumption mix of Finland; about 7.4% of electric power is generated from it. Almost half of Finland’s population lives in houses that use electric power and heat generated from peat. Ireland extracts twice as much peat as Belarus although its peat deposits are twice as small.
So far, Belarus has ranked third in the global peat extraction accounting for 10%. Peat is also widely used in the Baltic states, Canada, China, Czechia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Russia, Sweden and Ukraine.
Today the process of peat extraction and processing in Belarus is 100% automated with only Belarusmade equipment used. The industry employs more than 6,000 people. In 2012, the profitability of sold products in this sector was 12.6% while the average profitability in the country was 12.4%.
One of the challenges of the peat industry development in Belarus is the gradual depletion of raw materials. When peat companies were set up in the middle of the 20th century all prospective deposits were care- fully studied before building manufaturing facilities, industrial and transport infrastructure. However, today a significant number of these deposits are located in protected areas where land development is not allowed under the national law.
According to the Institute for Nature Management of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus, over 17% of territories accounting for 25% of peat deposits in Belarus are located in protected areas. Belarus’ largest deposits have been turned into protected areas without coordination with the Energy Ministry and Beltopgas. No peat extracting country would ever do this. Belarusian companies operate on the territory of 11,400 hectares which is less than 0.5% of all the peat deposits in the country. To compare: peat companies of Finland and Ireland exploit about 80,000 hectares of peat deposits.
According to Belarus’ Council of Ministers Resolution No. 794 of 17 June 2011, some peat deposits are now listed among prospective extraction sites and are no longer in the protected areas list. A total of 3,350 hectares of land was suggested to be excluded from the list which is 3% of the total territory protected by the state (108,807 hectares).
However, today the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection of Belarus vigorously opposes the exclusion of these territories from the list of
protected land and insists on the abolition of the resolution. At the same time, companies have already started upgrading their facilities and investing significant funds. Vertelishki Company has invested about Br40 billion to re-equip its briquette shop. If the peat deposit Svyatoye is not excluded from the list of protected areas, the company can shut down this year.
On the whole, the abolition of the resolution will affect eight large peat companies with almost 1,500 employees. If they are closed down, production of peat briquettes will go down by about 30% or 300,000 to 400,000 tonnes. This, in turn, will lead to the necessity to purchase $30 million worth of natural gas to make up for the lost peat, Beltopgas believes. Peat shortage will also affect numerous households that use peat for heating and cannot afford switching to gas.
Long Live the Peat!
The prospects of a wider use of peat are outlined in the following state documents: the Energy Security Concept of the Republic of Belarus and the government program Peat set to run in 20082010 and until 2020. Peat is clearly beneficial for the country’s econ- omy. For instance, substitution of natural gas by peat at cement plants will help save about $22 million. In addition, peat ash can be used as an additive to cement. According to Beltopgas, it is feasible to use peat instead of gas at Belarusian glass factories as well.
As for the industry itself, today it is focused on upgrading production facilities, reducing production expenses and raising management efficiency. For this purpose, it has been decided to transfer low-profit companies under the management of more well-to-do ones, such as the Usyazh and Lidsky peat briquette plants.
The latter is the flagship of the peat industry that serves as an example to all peat manufacturers. It was timely modernized to replace a natural gas boiler with a milled peat one, which allowed minimizing expenses. By the end of 2013, a mini peat briquette plant was built there with the output capacity of 20,400 tonnes per year which is now fully operational. Its main distinctive feature is mobility: after one deposit is exhausted, the plant can be easily dismantled and moved to a new location. This year the Energy Ministry plans to launch similar plants at mechanical engineering companies.
Dokshitsyraigas has set up a unique substrate production facility. It makes 50 types of soil with 70% of the total production exported. The Zelenobor plant produces liquid humous fertilizers. This is a result of fruitful cooperation with the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus which conducts research on deeper processing and alternative applications of peat.
The current volume of peat extraction (2.5 million tonnes) is the benchmark that the industry is hoping to preserve in the future. Plants seek to produce more peat briquettes using less raw materials by applying cutting-edge equipment. Under the Peat program that is currently in progress and will be running until 2020, briquette production will go up to 1.5 million tonnes exclusively through increasing the efficiency of current companies.
This very program envisages setting up a mining and chemical plant to produce briquettes, active charcoal and humous fertilizers under a waste-free technology. This project will be partially funded by peat companies and partially by investors. If successful, the project will allow Belarus to produce its own active charcoal, a product with a high added value, which is now imported to the country.